Norman Provan: Health boards must protect staff

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Evening News readers will have read last week about the outcome of a Health and Safety Executive investigation into the shocking case of a psychiatric nurse being violently attacked by a patient in Tranent.

However, what was more shocking was that this could potentially have been avoided if NHS Lothian had taken its responsibility for its staff welfare more seriously.

The health board admitted its failings in court and will find out soon how much it is to be fined as a result. This should serve as a wake-up call to other health boards across Scotland who must now take steps to protect their staff, for whom they have a duty of care. Given that the most recent official NHS Scotland staff survey reported that eight per cent of staff had been victim of physical assault in the previous 12 months, this is a matter that should be tackled urgently.

The same survey also found that 46 per cent of staff who had been victims of violent, emotional or verbal abuse had not reported it. This is because in many cases staff are so sceptical about their employers taking the necessary action and demonstrates just how much more health boards need to do to reassure their staff.

And these figures distract us from what is often a huge human cost to the staff affected, many of whom suffer physically and mentally for years to come as a result, with some never returning to work at all.

There is now no excuse for health boards not having robust risk assessment procedures in place. Not only that, the onus is on them to fully train all staff to make sure they know how to assess risk and what to do when problems are identified.

I would urge all staff who are victims of any kind of abuse to report it, not just for themselves but for their colleagues so that measures are put in place to try to prevent repeats of the same kind of incident in the future. It’s also imperative that all assaults are reported to the police so that employers publicly demonstrate that abuse of their staff will not be tolerated.

It is quite right that patient care is the number one priority for our NHS, but without dedicated staff this priority cannot be met. So employers must demonstrate their commitment to their hard-working staff by putting the right support and protection in place.

Otherwise health boards such as NHS Lothian will not only be facing a hefty financial cost but their staff will continue to have to deal with a heavy human cost.

• Norman Provan is associate director of employment relations with RCN Scotland.