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Majority of nurses have been assaulted by patients at work

Almost 80% of primary care and community nurses have been either verbally or physically assaulted by patients while at work, a Nursing in Practice survey has found.

Of the 555 respondents to the now annual survey, almost half of nurses (45.6%) said they had experienced verbal abuse with 3.8% suffering physical abuse at the hands of patients.

Nearly a third (30.4%) have been both verbally and physically assaulted by patients during their nursing career.

Jayne Marie Budge, 54, a Community Staff Nurse from Newcastle, told Nursing in Practice of one particular “horrendous” experience.

“A lack of respect towards nurses occurs quite frequently among patients,” she said.

“The worst one was a young man who was paralysed from the neck down and was verbally abusive, making me feel very threatened and intimidated. That was really horrendous. Although he was the same way with everyone, it felt personal.”

Rebecca Cheatle, Primary Care Advisor at the Royal College of Nursing, said it is “absolutely awful” that nurses are faced with violent patients.

“Increased waiting times and increased workloads can sometimes lead to frustration and fractured relationships between nurses and patients, but no nurse should ever have to cope with this level of violence,” she said.

“While the prevalence of lone worker policies has improved, much more done needs to be done to make sure these incidents are wiped out.”

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, described the survey findings as “extremely concerning”. 

“Patients expect the best treatment possible, but they also have a responsibility towards those treating them, and it is never acceptable for verbal abuse or physical violence to take place,” she said.

The Nursing in Practice survey also found more than three quarters of nurses working in primary care and the community feel disrespected by the government.

In comparison, 84.8% said they felt respected by patients and 67.2% by the general public.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said he understands why nurses feel disrespected by ministers, claiming there is a disconnect between government policies and what life is like for primary care and community nurses on the ground.

“The statistics speak for itself; the Health Secretary [Andrew Lansley] has lost people,” he said.

“There is a lack of understanding of what life is like on the ground for nurses and what the job is like day in day out with the inexorable pressure that is coming at them.

“The proposal for regional pay is a clear example of this

“We need the best and the most motivated nurses in deprived areas, or at the very least we don't need to give them an incentive to drive them away.

“If I was a nurse working in the north of England I would just feel totally insulted by the majority of which emanates from Lansley and his ministers.”  

Public Health Minister Anne Milton said both she and her colleagues have the “highest possible respect for nurses and the work they do”. 

"I speak personally as someone who trained and worked as a nurse and my colleagues and I know nurses carry out what at times is a very challenging job,” she said.

“The independent Nursing and Care Quality Forum, which is made up of frontline nurses, nurse leaders and patient representatives from across the country has been established to help support nurses in delivering the highest possible standards of care."

The perceived lack of respect may also account for the low participation among primary care and community nurses in the new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

The Nursing in Practice survey shows only 2.5% are a member of a CCG board.

Of those nurses not involved with their local CCG, almost half (44.3%) were unable to give a reason for their lack of input.

Worryingly, almost one in ten (9.8%) said they were not involved with their local CCG for fear they will not be heard to able to make a difference.

Others said they simply don't have the time to dedicate to a CCG role (17.4%), do not agree with the government's reforms (6.8%) or had another reason (21.7%).

Question: Have you ever been verbally or physically assaulted by a patient while at work? Share your experiences here.