HALF of nurses working in the Lothians have been attacked or harassed while treating patients in the last year, shocking new figures reveal.
It means health workers have faced one violent confrontation every four hours as it emerged assaults have almost doubled since 2011 with most cases involving patients or a family member.
The figures, obtained under freedom of information legislation, showed doctors, nurses and other care staff experienced nearly 2000 violent episodes in 2013 – compared to 1000 two years earlier – as well as a further 359 cases of verbal aggression.
Staffing shortages and an upsurge in alcohol-related hospital admissions have been blamed for the increase.
Barbara Sweeney, Royal College of Nursing officer for Lothian, called for a “zero tolerance” approach to violent attacks on health staff.
“One assault on a nurse or any other health care worker is one too many,” she said. “Our most recent employment survey found that half the nurses working in hospitals had experienced harassment or violence in the last year.”
It is believed most assaults occur at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, which treats patients with mental health issues. But a significant number were also reported at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the Western General Hospital and St John’s Hospital in Livingston.
Politicians united to condemn the soaring levels of assault. Jackson Carlaw, health spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives branded violence against frontline staff as “utterly despicable”.
“Too many people see health workers as fair game for violence, and those individuals have to be dealt with extremely severely through the courts,” he said.
Sarah Boyack, Labour MSP for the Lothians, said the rising trend was “extremely worrying”.
“We need an analysis of where incidents happened and the circumstances so that preventative measures can be put in place,” she said.
Alan Boyter, director of human resources for NHS Lothian, said the board would always seek prosecution of anyone who is violent or abusive towards its employees.
He said staff were given training in conflict resolution and how to de-escalate situations and avoid harm. “Panic buttons are also a feature in some services and personal alarms are also available,” he said.
“We have a robust system for reporting and monitoring incidents, which staff regularly use and we encourage them to be mindful about recording even minor incidents to ensure lessons can be gained from each event.
“We also constantly try to refine and modernise the reporting system to make it easier and faster to use.”