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Increase in physical assaults on NHS staff

23 January 2013

There was a rise of 3.3% in total reported physical assaults on NHS staff from 57,830 in 2010/11 to 59,744 in 2011/12.

There was a rise of 3.3% in total reported physical assaults on NHS staff from 57,830 in 2010/11 to 59,744 in 2011/12.

Figures for physical assaults against NHS staff are collected and collated by NHS Protect from NHS bodies across England on an annual basis. 425 health bodies submitted figures this year, employing well over a million staff and contractors.

The figures from NHS Protect show assaults on NHS staff that do and do not involve medical factors. This provides an indication of the number of assaults that could realistically result in a criminal sanction, since in cases involving medical factors the assailant may not be considered legally culpable for their actions and a successful criminal sanction against them may be unlikely.

The figures also showed a 16% rise in assaults against NHS staff involving medical factors in the same period: from 39,770 in 2010/11 to 46,265 in 2011/12.

NHS Protect is working in partnership with an expert group to develop new guidance and research for health bodies on dealing with the issue of assaults against NHS staff involving medical factors.

The new guidance on 'The Prevention and Management of Challenging Behaviour' (which includes but is not limited to violence against staff) will be circulated shortly to all NHS employers. It suggests that health bodies review existing care models and delivery of care, and identifies a need to change and challenge existing cultures.

Richard Hampton, head of local support and development services at NHS Protect, said: “There is never any room for complacency when it comes to violence in the NHS. NHS Protect will continue to work closely with its partners to identify why assaults happen, provide practical tools to address threats and promote the prosecution of offenders wherever appropriate."

He added: “We will be examining why we have seen this rise in assaults involving medical factors. It is important that good practice continues to be shared, to even out differences between trusts and focus on best practice in this area. For an injured member of staff, the question of whether an assault is medically caused may seem irrelevant, and they rightly expect to receive the best possible protection against such incidents.

“Staff committed to providing our NHS should never be expected to suffer an assault at work and it will not be tolerated. NHS Protect urges employers to take firm action in all cases of assault against NHS staff.”

Mr Hampton also urged health bodies to:
• take advantage of the joint working agreement with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service and use existing guidance to pursue local arrangements building on this national agreement - to ensure criminal assaults are identified and do not go unpunished.
• ensure staff are trained to use available powers to respond decisively to low-level nuisance behaviour before it escalates into violence against staff (powers under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (CJIA)).
• seek advice from the enhanced network of NHS Protect's Area Security Management Specialists (ASMSs). They give guidance to Local Security Management Specialists (LSMSs) and assist in assessing risks of violence, addressing these through prevention work and pursuing legal action when assaults do occur.