One in four NHS staff experience harassment at work
In each of the last four years the NHS Staff Survey has shown that more than one in four staff has experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from patients and members of the public while at work.
In the same timeframe, more than one in ten staff also said they had experienced physical violence from patients, relatives and other members of the public while at work.
Rosi Shepherd, Chief Nursing Officer at NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire ICB, said:
“Our dedicated health and care staff come to work each day to provide the best services and care they can. They should not be threatened and fearful for their safety or the safety of their team or other patients.
“We know that the vast majority of people who use local services are kind and respectful when interacting with staff, but the continued high number of incidents is unacceptable.”
Local figures at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW) showed 479 incidents of verbal abuse and 319 incidents of physical abuse towards staff since April 2023.
In response to the violence and aggression experienced by staff, UHBW introduced a Violence Reduction team in September 2022 to support staff who experience abusive behaviour.
Since the introduction of the team, one individual has been sentenced and there are 12 cases where the perpetrator has been charged and their cases are being progressed through the criminal justice system. In total, action against 37 instances of violent or aggressive behaviour towards UHBW colleagues is currently being pursued by the Violence Reduction team.
Emma Wood, Chief People Officer and Deputy Chief Executive at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“No-one should have to experience or witness violence, aggression, bullying and harassment at work, especially in a healthcare setting where people come expecting to care for others or to be cared for. It is simply unacceptable.
“We’re determined to root out all forms of unacceptable behaviour at UHBW. Our Violence Reduction team is supporting colleagues to feel safe and empowered to take action when faced with challenging behaviour.
“In the most serious instances, we will not hesitate to take action and we will report offenders to the police so they can be brought to justice.”
The problem is also serious in general practice, with care navigators across the area experiencing hundreds of incidents a day.
Peter Maynard, Executive Partner at Horfield Health Centre, has said the abuse front-line staff have received has become so bad over recent months that they have lost almost one third of their care navigator team.
“The old idea of a GP receptionist is long gone. They are skilled patient care navigators, following complex criteria to make sure people are able to access the right care, first time.
“We know people want care as soon as possible and can get frustrated, but while one person’s snide comment may not seem much by itself, when that is happening 100 times in a working day, it adds up to a lot of angst to take home with you and come back in the following day with.
“It takes months to fully train a patient care navigator, so whenever we lose one, we are effectively down that person’s hours for the best part of a year. Therefore, the result of abuse is actually going to be a lesser service for patients, more delays getting through on the phones and even more frustration.
“As ever, we are talking about a minority of patients who treat staff this way, but the vocal minority are having a very significant impact on general practice being able to deliver the sort of service it wants to.”
Mary Lewis, Chief Nursing Officer at Sirona care & health which provides NHS adult and children’s community healthcare across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, said the team worked with the police and the witness support organisation to proceed with a prosecution at the end of 2022 after an individual became violent and aggressive at an urgent care site.
It resulted in a 12-week sentence under the Assaults on Emergency Workers Act which provides further protection to a person employed for the purposes of providing or supporting NHS health services.
“Though our focus is always on prevention, we will always work closely with the police to achieve a prosecution where we feel this is appropriate.
“It is a reminder that violence and aggression against our colleagues and people providing care is never acceptable.”
ITV West Country featured a story focusing on the impact within GP practices.
BBC Points West speak with Horfield Health Centre staff and Bristol Royal Infirmary Staff about their experiences.