The figures for NHS staff reporting experiencing physical violence from patients (or their relatives) has fallen slightly over the past three years (11 per cent in 2009 and 13 per cent in 2007) and not surprisingly this figure is higher amongst frontline staff.
Fewer staff (21 per cent in 2009 compared with 23 per cent in 2008, and 26 per cent in 2007) reported that they experienced bullying, harassment and abuse from patients (or their relatives). Around 2 per cent of all staff said they had experienced physical violence from other staff (the same as in 2008).
Data from the survey also suggests an improvement in the reporting of incidents of violence and abuse. It is in employers’ interests to identify and address the threat or occurrence of workplace harassment and violence. But employers also have legal duties to protect the health and safety of all their workers, so failure to deal with and take reasonable steps to prevent harassment and violence will undermine business performance and could be unlawful.
A report by the National Audit Office in 2003 found clear links between violence and aggression, and staff sickness, turnover and lost productivity.
UNISON also points out that there are costs associated with compensating workers, bad publicity and low morale.
Whilst there is no consistent NHS trust data available, a number of research projects have demonstrated clear links between violence and aggression and staff sickness absence, turnover and lost productivity.
It is difficult to quantify the impact on, and cost to the NHS. However, there is now a general acceptance within the service that violence and aggression do cost in terms of increased absence, adverse effects on patient care and the not inconsiderable pain and suffering of its staff.
A key part of any NHS trust’s approach has to be risk assessment and finding ways to eliminate the risk of violence or reduce that risk to an acceptable level.
Where can I find out more?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlights some of the risk factors for violent behaviour as impatience, frustration, anxiety, resentment, drink, drugs and inherent aggression/mental health problems.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of violence. The HSE suggests:
- providing suitable training and information to staff
- improving the design of the working environment
- making changes to aspects of staff roles
- recording incidents of physical assault or verbal abuse so that patterns can be discerned.
The NHS Security Management Service (NHS SMS) has undertaken extensive work to raise the profile of the problem of violence against staff in the NHS, and is currently revising its overall strategy and, more specifically, its strategy on tackling violence. These are due to be published in summer 2010.
Full details of the work of the NHS SMS can be found on their website but the key elements of their work of particular interest are:
- Trusts are obliged to nominate one executive director and one non-executive director to champion security and the safety of staff in their organisation.
- Around 428,000 staff have received training in conflict resolution through the NHS SMS approved course, with support from the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
- The SMS is keen to be involved in and attend local SPFs to share and discuss details of the work that is underway to tackle violence. This information can then be shared by partners at local and trust level. If you would like to involve them in one of your meetings then please contact Sue Frith at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Security Incident Reporting System, which is designed to capture details of all security incidents/breaches was rolled out in April 2010. Data collected through the system will be analysed to identify patterns, trends and issues in violence and the management of it.
- The SMS is project managing the introduction of Lone Worker Services to the NHS. A framework agreement has been put in place to offer NHS tusts access to lone worker services though a centrally procured process at a very competitive price.
- The SMS has entered into agreements with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to ensure that appropriate action is taken against those who assault or abuse NHS staff, wherever this is legally possible.
- The SMS and the Health and Safety Executive have been working on a risk measurement exercise to measure the cost of violence to the NHS. Work on this will conclude in summer 2010. The results of this work will provide local partners with a clearer picture of the financial loss to the NHS when members of staff are assaulted.
- POSHH has developed, with the aid of SMS, leaflets for managers and lone workers which can be downloaded and printed off from the NHS Employers website.