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Patient assaults on NHS staff rising

Assaults on NHS staff have risen “slightly” by 3.3% to just fewer than 60,000 in the past year, figures show.

Data from NHS Protect found assaults including medical factors - where aggressive behaviour is linked to a clinical condition, have increased 16% from 39,770 in 2010/11 to 46,265 in 2011/12.

New guidance The Prevention and Management of Challenging Behaviour is expected to be circulated “shortly” to all NHS employers. NHS Protect's guidance suggests health bodies review existing care models and delivery of care, and identify a need to change and challenge existing cultures.

“There is never any room for complacency when it comes to violence in the NHS,” said Richard Hampton, head of local support and development services at NHS Protect.

“NHS Protect will continue to work closely with its partners to identify why assaults happen, provide practical tools to address threats and promote the prosecution of offenders wherever appropriate.”

Hampton insisted NHS Protect will “examine” the reasons behind the rise in assaults involving medical factors.

“For an injured member of staff, the question of whether an assault is medically caused may seem irrelevant, and they rightly expect to receive the best possible protection against such incidents,” he said.

'Grave concern'

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the fact that assaults against NHS staff are increasing is a matter of “grave concern” for the organisation.

“Of course, there are some instances where assaults or aggressive behaviour are related to a clinical condition, but employers must do more to prevent them,” he said.

“We are particularly concerned this increase could be due to increasing waiting times, reduced staffing levels and a growing level of frustration at the NHS struggles to cope.

“Our message to employers is clear: there are measures you can take to protect your staff, and they must be taken in order to reduce the individual suffering and the time off work which these assaults can bring.”

NHS Protect collects figures for physical assaults against NHS staff from NHS bodies across England on an annual basis. More than 400 health bodies submitted figures this year, employing over a million staff and contractors.