News

Cuts to mental health leave staff facing violence and aggression, says Unison

Mental health workers have shared stories of being punched, bitten and kicked as they explain how reductions in staffing levels are leaving them vulnerable to attacks by patients.

Mental health staff have told how reduced funding for services is leaving them vulnerable to violence and aggression, sharing stories of being punched, bitten and kicked

Unison’s report Struggling to Cope reveals more than two in five workers had been subjected to physical violence in the past year.

September’s survey saw 1,000 mental health employees take part, half of who were nurses or healthcare assistants, working in both secure hospital and community settings with adults and children across the UK.

Other respondents included those in administrative and clerical roles, as well as social work.

Other findings included:

  • 34% of staff were thinking about leaving their jobs, while 14% were actively planning to do so.
  • 68% felt service users were increasingly reaching crisis point before accessing services because of a lack of staff, funding and beds.

Mental health staff have told how reduced funding for services is leaving them vulnerable to violence and aggression, sharing stories of being punched, bitten and kicked


Picture: John Behets

Unison’s report Struggling to Cope reveals more than two in five workers had been subjected to physical violence in the past year.

September’s survey saw 1,000 mental health employees take part, half of who were nurses or healthcare assistants, working in both secure hospital and community settings with adults and children across the UK.

Other respondents included those in administrative and clerical roles, as well as social work.

Other findings included:

  • 34% of staff were thinking about leaving their jobs, while 14% were actively planning to do so.
  • 68% felt service users were increasingly reaching crisis point before accessing services because of a lack of staff, funding and beds.
  • 87% blamed staff shortages and 49% blamed overuse of agency staff for the problem.
  • 60% of staff felt they were unable to support the people that they care for properly, and almost three-quarters (74%) reported feeling stressed.
  • 36% had witnessed violence against colleagues by patients.
  • 32% said they did not report incidents, while 31% of those who did, said they did not feel supported by their managers afterwards.

Comments from some staff suggest that ‘violent or aggressive incidents happen on a daily basis’, and that they ‘go with the job’.

One worker described being ‘repeatedly punched to the floor’, while others spoke of ‘attempted strangulation’, or being head-butted, spat on, kicked and bitten.

Lone working

Unison added 33% were now having to work alone (when they did not previously) which put them at greater risk of abuse.

The union’s head of health Sara Gorton called on the government to urgently review staffing levels and introduce minimum patient to staff ratios.

She added: ‘Severe staff shortages mean there are fewer mental health employees to deal with a rising number of users with complex needs.

‘As a result, many staff are having to work alone, making violent attacks more likely. It’s no wonder so many are planning on leaving for less stressful, safer work elsewhere.’

Further information

Struggling to Cope


In other news

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Primary Health Care
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs