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17.04.18

Steep increase in violence against NHS staff in 2016-17

Physical attacks on NHS staff rose by almost 10% in a year, according to new figures published today.

The figures, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted on behalf of Unison, reveal that the biggest increase in attacks is in the acute sector, with attacks in A&E departments up a shocking 21% last year compared to 2015-16.

In 2016-17, there were 18,720 attacks on health care workers in acute trust, up from 15,460 the previous year.

According to the data, NHS trusts that are struggling with huge financial deficits are also likely to have seen a large rise in the number of reported attacks on staff.

Trusts that are more than £20m in the red saw a 23% increase in attacks compared to the previous year, whereas trusts that were comfortably in the black saw an increase of just 1.5%.

The FoI was submitted to all 244 NHS trusts in England and responses were received from 181 organisations.

Unison has said that if these figures were extrapolated to cover the whole of the NHS in England then the number of reported violent incidents in 2016-17 is likely to be closer to 75,000 - the equivalent of 200 attacks every day.

The union asked for the research to be carried out as it had concerns that since the abolition of NHS Protect last year, there is no meaningful collation or comparison being made on the data on assaults.

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, warned that staff shortages are harming patient care and contributing to a hostile environment where health workers are at increasing risk of being assaulted.

“It’s no accident that trusts where the pressures seem the most extreme – where there are huge financial deficits or where it’s a struggle to meet growing demands on services – have seen the steepest rise in the number of attacks.

“This desperate situation is only set to worsen as the squeeze on resources gets tighter,” she said.

Although staff working in mental health are seven and a half times more likely to be attacked, the sector saw a smaller increase from 2015-16 of 5%, which the union says suggests that it is having some success in preventing an already difficult situation from deteriorating.

Other parts of the NHS that showed an increase in attacks higher than the average of 9.7% were community trusts, which saw a 22% increase in attacks; ambulance trusts, which had 15% more attacks; and trusts that employed more than 7,000 people, which saw a 16% increase in attacks.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said that all NHS workers should be able to perform their jobs without fear of violence.

“The NHS has a zero-tolerance attitude towards violence and can pursue legal action against offenders whenever appropriate.  

“It is also the case that there must be improved support to services and teams where there are clinical conditions affecting patient behaviour.

“Organisations are also taking measures to prevent violence and in particular ensure that staffing levels reduce risk to our people,” he explained.

Top image: sturti

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