Writing for Central Lobby, Nic Dakin MP says NHS staff should not have to accept verbal and physical abuse as "part of the job".
On average, our National Health Service deals with one million patients every 36 hours. That's 463 people a minute, or almost eight people per second. In the vast majority of cases, these interactions are positive, and result in successful outcomes for patients and staff. This is why, simply put, the NHS is one of the best healthcare models on the planet. But, sometimes, sadly, things go wrong for patients, and sometimes, things go wrong for staff. The people that provide such sterling service to the public in caring for us in our most difficult moments are sometimes the victims of violence during their work to provide these services.
The NHS Management Service recently revealed that there were over 150 reported physical assaults on healthcare staff per day in 2009-2010. That is before verbal assault is taken into consideration. In the North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust that covers the Scunthorpe area, there were 101 assaults against staff between April 2009 and the end of March 2010. This works out as 13.1 assaults per thousand staff over the year. Research by the Royal College of Nursing shows that almost 11% of those surveyed have been physically assaulted at work in the past two years, and over 60% of all respondents surveyed had suffered some sort of verbal abuse. One respondent commented that 'verbal abuse seems to just be accepted as part of our work'. Even one assault, verbal or physical, against any person simply trying to do their job in any profession, never mind people who routinely save lives every day, is completely unacceptable.
Every single person in the NHS should be able to go to work without the fear of physical harm, and I strongly back UNISON's calls for a 'zero-tolerance' approach to safeguarding NHS staff. We simply cannot perpetuate the myth that anyone, especially those in the NHS, should have to expect assault as being a potential part of the working day. Everyone, including lawmakers, employers and staff have to make sure that all staff can carry out their work free from the stress and threat of both verbal and physical assault.
With such far-reaching changes to the structure of the NHS about to come into play across the UK, and the call from the Treasury to do more with less as budgets are cut, there is a real danger that we may be putting the health of workers at risk in our NHS. We must ensure that any restructuring or budget reductions do not jeopardise the safety of staff. We must not sacrifice the safety of our workforce in pursuit of deficit reduction. We must do all we can to protect, as Michael Rosen observed on the 60th anniversary of the NHS, those whose 'hands that touch us first... and the hands that touch us last'.