The Government will no longer collect specific data on the number of assaults on NHS staff, health ministers have confirmed in a Commons debate.
Unlike police officers, whose assaults are monitored by the Home Office, healthcare practitioners will no longer have this data tracked.
NHS assault figures were previously gathered and released by NHS Protect. Ministers scrapped the body in the current financial year without detailing where responsibility will fall. Before it closed, final figures released by the official body showed a rising number of assaults on NHS staff.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that it will result in a ‘blind spot’ for the Government to the scale of the problem and could risk further deterioration.
MPs will today debate a private member’s bill to strengthen the law against people who assault emergency workers by increasing the minimum sentence for perpetrators.
In a parliamentary question response, ministers admitted for the first time that the Government will rely on an annual survey that NHS workers complete on an optional basis, which will not capture the real number of attacks – a move labelled inadequate by frontline nursing staff.
The RCN is warning that using the annual NHS staff survey makes it difficult to measure the impact if the Bill becomes law; does not provide a comprehensive data set; and fails to distinguish between intentional assaults and those related to a patient’s medical condition.
The draft legislation, from Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, received Government backing following a similar pledge in the Conservative Party election manifesto. Ahead of the debate, nurses from across the country visited Parliament to lobby MPs to support the Bill.
The legislation will double the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year if committed against an emergency worker while on duty.
Last year, a survey of RCN members found more than half (56%) had experienced physical or verbal abuse from patients and a further 63% from patients’ relatives or other members of the public.
Final figures from NHS Protect showed a 4% rise in physical assaults against healthcare workers in England, from 67,864 in 2014/15 to 70,555 in 2015/16.
Figures from NHS Protect show that only 10% of physical assaults, unrelated to a medical condition such as a mental health problem or dementia, result in criminal sanctions.
NICE estimated in 2015 that attacks on staff cost the NHS £69m a year through absence, loss of productivity and additional security – equal to the cost of employing about 1,800 nurses.
Kim Sunley, senior employment relations advisor for the RCN, said: ‘This creates a dangerous blind spot for ministers hoping to tackle the increasing number of assaults in the NHS. It is totally inadequate to rely on optional surveys, especially if the law is being tightened.
‘The official body, before it was disbanded, warned Ministers the level of assaults was rising. It should not have been removed and the Government must take their role more seriously.
‘This bill represents a vital step towards achieving that, but without the ability to fully monitor the figures, it will be difficult to quantify the scale of the problem, or the effectiveness of any new law.’