Will convicting violent patients be an effective deterrent against attacks on nurses?

Trusts are taking legal action in a bid to put an end to violent attacks on NHS staff

‘Staff do not come to work to be assaulted, abused, spat at or attacked, and we will not tolerate any such behaviour.’

This is a statement from NHS security manager on situations that no nurse or any other staff should endure – yet, sadly, many do every day.

It may seem like Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust's Ron Gregory is simply stating the obvious.

In fact, his trust has had to take legal action over violence against its staff to say enough is enough.

New legislation

The trust has publicised its part in the conviction of a man for three counts of assault that left a nurse ‘shaken and nervous’ after being pushed and grabbed – and saw security staff punched and kicked.

It is the first reported case involving a nurse in which the defendant has been prosecuted under new legislation designed to strengthen protections for public sector workers attacked while on duty.

The trust’s managers would almost certainly rather talk about something else. But the employer has seen more than 70 reported assaults on staff by members of the public in the past 12 months.

Unfortunately, this is a common situation in the NHS.

Our own investigation shows £20.4 million was paid out in compensation over the past three years to NHS staff who were attacked at work.

These staff have rightly received payments from NHS Resolution for the psychological trauma and physical injuries sustained in the assault.

But this is money that could have gone on much-needed nursing staff or to plug gaps in service provision caused by austerity.

Wary of similar patients

Meanwhile, the nurse who was attacked in Hull was left feeling ‘helpless’ and is now wary of similar patients.

Ironically, the reason the patient was still in the hospital, having been given the all-clear from scans, was due to the kindness of staff. They were allowing him to sleep off the alcohol he’d consumed rather than discharge him into the cold February night.

Action is being taken locally and nationally to tackle NHS violence but until such measures truly start to have an effect, employers will be seeking publicity and prosecutions to protect their staff.

Flavia Munn is interim editor, Nursing Standard

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