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Ministers to stop collating information on NHS staff assaults

Decision condemned by main nursing union

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 20 October 2017

Health ministers will no longer collect information on NHS staff assaults, the government confirmed, on the eve of a Commons debate.

The largest nursing union has condemned the decision, warning it will leave the government ‘blind’ to the scale of the problem and risks a further deterioration.

The decision stands in contrast to the Home Office, which monitors assaults on police officers.

MPs will today (Friday 20 October 2017) debate a Private Members’ Bill to strengthen the law against people who assault emergency workers.

The Department of Health confirmed that the NHS and government will not continue to collect assaults figures - previously gathered and released by NHS Protect.

Ministers scrapped the body in the current financial year. However, before it closed, final figures from NHS Protect showed a 4% rise in physical assaults against healthcare workers in England from 67,864 in 2014/15 to 70,555 in 2015/16.

In a parliamentary question response, ministers said the government will rely on an annual survey that NHS workers complete on an optional basis.

Nurses dub this ‘inadequate’.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says using the annual NHS staff survey will not provide a comprehensive data set and will fail to distinguish between intentional assaults and those related to a patient’s medical condition.

Commenting, Kim Sunley, senior employment relations officer at RCN, said: “This creates a dangerous blind spot for ministers hoping to tackle the increasing number of assaults in the NHS. It is totally inadequate to rely on optional surveys, especially if the law is being tightened.

“The official body, before it was disbanded, warned Ministers the level of assaults was rising. It should not have been removed and the Government must take their role more seriously. This bill represents a vital step towards achieving that, but without the ability to fully monitor the figures, it will be difficult to quantify the scale of the problem, or the effectiveness of any new law.”

Responding to the RCN’s criticism, a government spokesperson told OnMedica: “NHS staff work incredibly hard in a high-pressure environment - it is completely unacceptable for them to be subject to aggression or violence and employers should have no hesitation in involving the police.

“We continue to collect data on physical assaults against NHS staff through the annual NHS staff survey, with trusts also collecting data at a local level, and we are making crucial legal changes to ensure those who are violent face the full force of the law.”

The draft legislation, from Labour MP, Chris Bryant, received government backing following a similar pledge in the Conservative Party election manifesto. Ahead of the debate, nurses from across the country visited Parliament to lobby MPs to support the Bill.

The legislation will double the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year if committed against an emergency worker while on duty.

Last year, a survey of RCN members found more than half (56%) had experienced physical or verbal abuse from patients and a further 63% from patients’ relatives or other members of the public.

Figures from NHS Protect show that only 10% of physical assaults, unrelated to a medical condition such as a mental health problem or dementia, result in criminal sanctions.

NICE estimated in 2015 that attacks on staff cost the NHS £69 million a year through absence, loss of productivity and additional security – equal to the cost of employing about 1,800 nurses.

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