Following a Freedom of Information request, incorporating almost two thirds of mental health trusts in the UK, it was shown that the number of assaults on staff had risen from 33,620 in 2012-13, to 42,692 in 2016. The current figure is 25% higher than it was 4 years ago. An increase at such an alarming rate is highly troublesome and the violence has quite rightly been labelled as ‘completely unacceptable’ by NHS bosses. The majority of the rise can be seen in England alone with an increase of over a third, whereas little to no increase has been seen in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Not only are attacks on staff at a shocking level, but the number of patient on patient incidents were upwards of 17,000 in 2016.

Workplace assault is ‘Completely Unacceptable’

assaulted at work

The reported incidents are nothing short of distressing. From spitting, kicking and biting, to accounts of attempted strangulation by patients. One worker, Sharon Morris, recounts how she was assaulted at work. She and a colleague took two patients out for a cigarette in a courtyard where she was punched to the ground and hit repeatedly in the face until she passed out. She was taken to hospital where she was treated for facial bruising and concussion. Mrs Morris stated:

I had known the patient for 18 months, and the attack came out of the blue. I think it was opportunistic. I’ve been a nurse for 30 years and had scratches and been shouted at before, but nothing as serious as this.”

Effects on the Work Force of assaults at work

With almost one third of mental health staff reporting a rise in violence towards workers in the past year, a recurring reasoning given was a shortage of staff. It is unsurprising that many do not wish to return to work following an incident nor budding nurses not wanting to enter into the field of mental health. Staff shortages mean that fewer numbers are present to cope with the escalating number of patients and their increasingly difficult needs. Head of Health at the Trade Union, Unison, Sara Gorton, comments:

This is leading to an increase in violence and a working environment that makes it more difficult to retain staff.

Despite feedback from staff showing an increase in the violent situations they are facing, money is being invested in order to work through the issues. It was said by the Department of Health that £11.6bn was invested in 2016 with the foresight of creating up to 21,000 jobs by 2021. Only time will tell whether the creation of such posts will have an effect on the current reported levels of violence.

Not only are the working conditions resulting in a shortfall of staff but the effect on the workers themselves can be huge. Workers have reported suffering with stress, flashbacks and panic attacks following incidents as well as requiring many weeks of work and often not returning to the same position. The situation has been described as a ‘powder keg’, patients tend to be much more unwell when they arrive at these units and it takes only the slightest thing to happen for a violent outcome to occur.

Following a Violent Incident at work

As assaults on mental health workers continues to rise it is important for staff who have suffered assaults at work to report each case as quickly as possible. The Department of Health expects the NHS to work closely with the police following a violent incident in order to respond in the strongest possible way. However, should you feel that your employer is not responding in an appropriate manner it is crucial to seek external advice.

Georgina Parkin a Solicitor specialising in assault at work claims, comments:

“Failing to adequately train staff and failing to ensure that there are enough staff on a dangerous ward is a false economy, costing the taxpayer more in the long-term. As assaults on staff increase, more staff leave, more staff are on sickness absence, and morale declines. Mental health services require proper funding. The human toll of an assault at work is so significant that the government should do all that it can to keep employees safe at work.

At Truth Legal Solicitors we specialize in Personal Injury, Clinical Negligence, Employment Disputes and more. Based in Harrogate with virtual offices around the UK, we offer a free consultation on a no-obligations basis to discuss and help resolve issues you may have regarding being assaulted at work. Should you feel that you wish take the matter further as you are unhappy with the way your employer or another solicitor is handling your case, don’t hesitate to contact us as we can often work on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.

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Catherine Reynolds
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