Rise in vi­o­lent at­tacks on NHS men­tal health staff

Nurses blame staff short­ages for surge in in­ci­dents, sur­vey finds

The Observer - - NEWS - By De­nis Camp­bell Health Pol­icy Edi­tor

Two out of five NHS men­tal health work­ers have been abused or at­tacked by a pa­tient over the last year as ser­vices have be­come over­stretched be­cause of staff short­ages, a new re­port re­veals.

Staff have been kicked, punched and head­but­ted while some had a pa­tient try to stran­gle them, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of more than 1,000 peo­ple work­ing in men­tal health care.

In a cat­a­logue of in­ci­dents one worker was re­peat­edly punched to the floor, an­other suf­fered a bro­ken nose while oth­ers were bit­ten and spat at. In all, 42% of those sur­veyed by the trade union Uni­son had ex­pe­ri­enced some form of ag­gres­sion or vi­o­lence in the pre­vi­ous 12 months.

Some staff said that be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of such be­hav­iour “goes with the job”. One said: “On a daily ba­sis I would say that pa­tients are ver­bally ag­gres­sive. Rather than be­ing an un­usual oc­cur­rence I now con­sider this al­most a de­fault po­si­tion.”

An­other de­scribed “be­ing punched and spat at when sup­port­ing pa­tients with their per­sonal care, or un­ex­pected phys­i­cal abuse from pa­tients that are con­fused and worked up”.

A third of the nurses and other men­tal health staff sur­veyed be­lieve that vi­o­lent in­ci­dents have be­come more com­mon over the last 12 months, and 87% blame staff short­ages.

“Se­vere staff short­ages mean fewer men­tal health nurses to deal with a ris­ing num­ber of users with com­plex needs,” said Sara Gor­ton, Uni­son’s head of health. “As a re­sult many staff are hav­ing to work alone, mak­ing vi­o­lent at­tacks more likely.” The num­ber of men­tal health nurses in the NHS has fallen by more than 10% since 2010.

Sep­a­rate find­ings, un­cov­ered by the BBC ra­dio pro­gramme 5 Live Investigates to be broad­cast to­day, show that at­tacks on men­tal health staff have risen by about a quar­ter over the last five years. Free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quests to NHS bod­ies across the UK show that the num­ber of in­ci­dents rose from 33,620 in 2012-13 to 42,692 in 2016-17, al­though the in­crease was only seen in Eng­land.

At­tacks in­clude a health­care as­sis­tant work­ing in men­tal health­care be­ing stabbed to death and an­other worker hav­ing part of their thumb bit­ten off. Men­tal health pa­tients as­saulted other pa­tients more than 17,000 times last year, the fig­ures also re­veal.

Uni­son’s find­ings, based on re­sponses last month, paint a pic­ture of an over­stretched work­force strug­gling to de­liver high-qual­ity care to vul­ner­a­ble pa­tients in in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

Six in 10 staff said they were un­able to pro­vide proper care to their pa­tients be­cause they did not have enough time to do their job prop­erly. Three-quar­ters feel stressed at least once a week be­cause of their job pres­sures and 36% say they feel stressed ev­ery day. One in five (22%) had taken sick leave over the last year as a re­sult of stress and burnout. Many reg­u­larly work un­paid over­time.

Wendy Burn, pres­i­dent of the Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists, said: “These are truly shock­ing find­ings. It is es­sen­tial that we ex­pand the work­force with prop­erly trained staff so that care can be pro­vided that is safe for ev­ery­one.”

The Depart­ment of Health said: “It’s com­pletely un­ac­cept­able for NHS staff to face vi­o­lence or ag­gres­sion at work. All in­ci­dents should be re­ported and we ex­pect the NHS to work with the po­lice to seek the strong­est pos­si­ble ac­tion.”

Ministers re­cently pledged to boost the NHS men­tal health work­force in Eng­land by 21,000 by 2021 to help cope with ris­ing de­mand and en­sure pa­tients re­ceive good qual­ity care.

Wendy Burn, the pres­i­dent of the Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists, said the find­ings were ‘ truly shock­ing’.

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