Lancaster University review reveals NHS staff abuse

Lancaster University's review has revealed the new figures.
Lancaster University's review has revealed the new figures.
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A review by Lancaster University has revealed the number of assaults on NHS staff.

The first ever review of the experience of hospital A&E staff reveals that they have resigned themselves to patient violence and aggression.

In the UK, there were 70,555 total reported assaults on NHS staff in 2016. Around the world, one in four hospital staff has experienced physical abuse.

A review co-authored by Dr Ian Smith and Dr Rebecca Ashton looked at the experiences of staff in 18 countries.

They found that the highest reports of both verbal and physical aggression are in Accident and Emergency departments, with nurses subject to regular verbal and physical abuse.

“Staff appear to passively accept violence and aggression, often when preventative and reactive strategies were inconsistently enforced,” said clinical psychologist Dr Ian Smith from Lancaster University.

One healthcare worker said: “People can swear at us, spit at us, bite at us, try and hurt us and nobody puts an incident report in.”

Staff saw some patient’s violence as being more in their control than others.

“If the patient has dementia, that’s a bit different than a drunk patient or just a patient angry about waiting time,” said Dr Smith.

But Dr Ashton and Smith said staff often missed signs of increasing aggression before an attack, and found it hard to understand why they were being attacked when they were trying to help.

Staff also found it difficult to be both a caregiver and the target of abuse. The studies reviewed revealed staff managing in isolation, often feeling inadequate and guilty. Experiencing violence led to feelings of powerlessness, with some reluctant to work in Emergency Departments.