Violent attacks on hospital staff soar in Lothians

Unison says NHS Lothian should have a 'zero tolerance' approach towards violence aimed at staff. Picture: Gareth Easton
Unison says NHS Lothian should have a 'zero tolerance' approach towards violence aimed at staff. Picture: Gareth Easton
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HOSPITAL staff in Lothian have been subjected to more than 3500 physical attacks during the last two years, alarming new figures have revealed.

And physical attacks have soared by 68 per cent at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the year up to March 2015, while abuse at the Western General Hospital has also risen.

Details released through Freedom of Information legislation also show the number of violent incidents increased by 48 per cent at St Johns’ Hospital in Livingston.

The grim figures were branded “unacceptable” by union bosses, who pledged to sit down with NHS Lothian to decide how to tackle the rise.

Tom Waterson, Lothian branch spokesman for Unison, said: “What we have always said is NHS Lothian and NHS Scotland should have a zero tolerance policy towards violence.

“It is not just a health service problem, it is a society problem. How can people think it is okay to attack people who are trying to help them?”

The rising figures could be explained by an increase in reporting of incidents, he added, as the union successfully lobbied NHS Lothian to allow staff to receive days off to attend a court hearing.

Mr Waterson said: “We encourage all staff to report incidents immediately, whether there are verbal or physical attacks. The figures are still unaccceptable, whatever the cause. We will be sitting down with NHS Lothian to see if anything can be done and if there is a link with any of the attacks to see if they are particularly concentrated in one area.”

Attacks fell by 20 per cent at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, although the Morningside psychiatric facility still reports the highest figures. Police or hospital security were called to 893 incidents of staff being attacked physically or verbally within the last year.

In total there were 548 verbal attacks on healthcare workers during the two-year time period. Excessive consumption of alcohol and so-called “legal highs” could be linked to the increase in attacks on staff, warned Scottish Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw.

Mr Carlaw MSP said: “Any attack on staff in our NHS is unacceptable and inexcusable.

“That the number of attacks is increasing is in all likelihood yet further evidence that we have yet to turn the tide in irresponsible alcohol consumption and alarmingly, of an increasing number of individuals being admitted as a consequence of ‘legal highs’.

“Good intentions are not enough. the Scottish Government has a primary responsibility to ensure that our hospitals are safe and these figures suggest that after eight years they have yet to do so.”

Car parking staff acrosss NHS Lothian started wearing CCTV cameras in March to reduce violence and aggression from people visiting the Western General, St John’s and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development at NHS Lothian, said: “We have 26,000 staff working in sites across West Lothian, East Lothian, Edinburgh and Midlothian and we expect all of our employees to be able to deliver health care in an environment free from violence, intimidation and aggression.

“We encourage employees to report any event of this type to allow us to investigate further and have a robust system for the reporting and monitoring of incidents. Staff also have access to specific training to equip them with the skills and competence to deal with and de-escalate difficult situations and avoid harm.”

ANALYSIS

By Norman Provan, RCN Scotland Associate Director – Employment Relations

Scotland’s health and care staff are under enormous pressure each and every day that they go to work, and it’s shocking that they are being subjected to attack whilst run off their feet trying to treat and care for people who are sick or injured.

One assault on a nurse, a health care support worker or any other health care worker is one assault too many. Sadly, our most recent employment survey found that half of the nurses working in Scotland’s hospitals had personally experienced harassment or violence by patients or their families in the last year.

Health boards have a duty of care to protect their staff from attack, and they should make it crystal clear to patients and their families that they have a zero tolerance approach to any form of harassment or violence. It is key that health boards report every incident to the police and seek a conviction where appropriate.

We understand that patients sometimes feel frustration with the service they are receiving. Nursing staff recognise and share patients’ frustration at the impact that staff shortages can have, but patients’ expressing their annoyance through aggression is simply unacceptable.

The fact is that demand on NHS services has increased at such a pace that it is outstripping the resources we have, both in terms of money and staff. In the last NHS staff survey only a quarter of nursing and midwifery staff said that staffing levels were sufficient to do their job properly. Vacancy rates have been increasing since 2011 and the number of posts empty for more than three months is also on the rise, with many health boards really struggling to recruit nursing staff. So healthcare staff are being asked to do more with less, and it is unsustainable.

But, regardless of the pressures, the bottom line is that assaults, whether physical or verbal, aimed at staff are intolerable.