The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said that there needs to be a specific law against verbal and physical abuse towards nurses treating the public.
There are 193 attacks on UK healthcare workers are reported every day and according to NHS Protect there was a 4% rise in physical assaults against healthcare workers in England from 67,864 in 2014/15 to 70,555 in 2015/16.
A survey of RCN members found that 56% had experienced physical or verbal abuse from patients and a further 63% from patients’ relatives or members of the public.
There will now be a parliamentary debate for MPs to discuss whether to make it a specific criminal offence to attack a public healthcare professional.
More than 116,000 people signed a petition which triggered the parliamentary debate after a campaign led by LBC radio presenter Nick Ferrari.
It is hoped that a specific law would be create a greater deterrent for those willing to verbally or physically attack nurses on the job.
Each year the incidents cost the health service an estimated £69m through staff absence, loss of productivity and the need for additional security.
In its initial response to the petition, the Government said: ‘Assaults against NHS staff are unacceptable, and already criminalised. If the victim serves the public, an assault is treated more seriously. A new offence would not provide additional protection.’
Lone workers in the community
Kathryn Yates, RCN Professional Lead for Primary and Community Care, told Nursing in Practice that she continues to be ‘very concerned’ about the safety of lone-working nurses in the community.
‘Little has changed since 2015 when half of all community nurses we surveyed said they felt vulnerable at work.
‘Nearly half also said the risks had worsened as a result of NHS cost-cutting. Increasing caseloads and a lack of staff means more nurses are having to work alone.
‘Some local councils have cut their community nursing budgets by 50%, and overall there has been a 42% reduction in the number of district nurses.
‘Currently we are have shortages of general practice nurses and nurse practitioners which is adding to the current workforce crisis in general practice too. This shortage of staff and the increased need for out-of-hours working are both serious risk factors.’