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Rise in prosecutions following assaults on NHS staff

Nearly 68,000 reported attacks recorded in acute trusts last year

Mark Gould

Monday, 23 November 2015

The number of criminal actions following reported assaults on NHS hospital workers increased slightly last year. Figures from NHS Protect show that there were 1,679 criminal proceedings instigated last year - up by 30 from 2013-4. There were 67,864 reported physical assaults against NHS staff in England last year - a small reduction of 819 from 68,683 in 2013-14.

Richard Hampton, NHS Protect's head of external engagement and services at NHS Protect, said; “While it is encouraging to see the total figure going in the right direction there is no room for complacency after this small reduction in reported assaults. We urge all health bodies, in all sectors, to take advantage of the joint working agreement with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. They can build local arrangements on this national agreement to ensure criminal assaults are identified and do not go unpunished.”

The 2014 NHS staff survey showed a possible 34% non-reporting of incidents of violence (albeit a lower percentage than the previous year), so it is reasonable to assume some under-reporting of physical assaults.

Mr Hampton explained what will be done specifically to better protect staff in NHS mental health settings: a new partnership protocol by NHS Protect, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Crown Prosecution Service will shortly be launched:

“It is designed to help the NHS, police and CPS work together to respond to incidents of crime, investigate and take appropriate cases forward for prosecution in this sector.”

NHS Protect has been included in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 with powers to apply for civil injunctions on behalf of NHS health bodies for the purpose of preventing individuals from engaging in anti-social behaviour on NHS premises.

Commenting on the figures Janet Davies, executive director of Nursing and Service Delivery at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said: “With increasing waiting times, rising frustration and the chaos of understaffed and busy wards, staff are too often the punch bag for a care system on the point of being overwhelmed. It’s also a vicious cycle – with morale undermined, difficulty recruiting and staff off sick, patient care can be damaged and delayed.

Ms Davies added: “Aside from the pain and distress, assaults against staff cost the NHS around £60 million which could be better spent on improving patient care and providing faster treatment. It is right that sanctions have been applied to more of the perpetrators than before, but it is still only a tiny proportion of the total. It is also likely that the reported assaults are just scratching the surface of the problem, with many going unreported because staff don’t have time or don’t believe that action will be taken.

“There may well be instances where assaults or aggressive behaviour are related to a medical condition, but there is more employers can do to prevent incidents and reduce harm. With security staff, training, support for lone workers, safe staffing levels and a well-designed environment for care, employers can help to mitigate the risks to staff.

“The RCN is now working with nurses and employers to encourage dignity at work and a supportive, safe workplace for all staff. This can only happen if the NHS recognizes that supported staff deliver better care, and invests accordingly.”

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