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Monday, March 4, 2024

NHS nurses suffering shocking violence from patients, senior nurse warns

NHS nurses suffering shocking violence from patients, senior nurse warns

Nurses are being put in increasing danger from shocking levels of violence and aggression by patients, a senior nursing leader has warned.

Prof Nicola Ranger, the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) director of nursing, said the crisis in the NHS had fuelled bad behaviour by patients frustrated by worsening delays for treatment since the Covid pandemic.

Ranger said the situation was contributing to an exodus of nurses from the NHS, amid a vicious cycle of staff shortages and rising violence.

This meant that there were often not enough nurses on duty to keep colleagues safe, she added.

Calling on the government to make tackling the abuse of nurses a priority, Ranger said there was a sense of despair in the profession about their deteriorating working conditions.

“I think the public would be totally shocked if they knew how common it is for nursing staff to be on the receiving end of violence and aggression at work,” said Ranger. “Nurses are put in jeopardy, it’s become all too common for them to be threatened by patients on shift.

“We genuinely have got a nursing crisis in the UK that doesn’t seem to be being acknowledged by our government at all. Being spat at, being hit, being punched, can for some nurses just literally be the final straw.

“One of the big problems now is that there just aren’t enough nursing staff on shift, which leaves colleagues exposed. The government needs to treat this as a priority, otherwise we risk more leaving the profession.”

Her comments reflect the findings of a Guardian investigation into sexual abuse in the NHS, which found the most frequently recorded incidents in English hospitals were by patients against staff.

The RCN’s own figures show the number of reports of abuse from members have risen by more than a fifth (21%) in the past year. Over the same period, more than half (52%) of the abuse reported to the college’s helpline concerned members abuse by patients. Almost two-thirds of reported incidents (63%) were physical abuse and 14% were sexual abuse.

Ranger said there has been a shift in the public’s attitude towards NHS staff since the pandemic, with a growing number of what she called “reasonable patients” taking out their frustrations with the poor state of the health service on nurses.

“I’ve seen it first-hand – in bigger hospitals security is an issue,” said Ranger, who was previously chief nurse at King’s College hospital NHS foundation trust in London, where she appointed a violence reduction matron to tackle the problem.

“The NHS got claps during Covid. But then the reality of waiting times, elective delays, and staffing vacancies began to [hit]. So I think there was a general feeling that people had to fight to get into hospital. That underlying tone of aggression – that would easily ignite – was there post-pandemic due to a very challenged NHS.

“I think people are losing a little bit of confidence in the NHS. The average person just comes in with a little bit more heightened sense of concern, and that can easily flip. If you’re waiting 13-14 hours for an A&E bed and your elderly mother is still stuck on a trolley who wouldn’t be frustrated? It’s absolutely shocking.”

Ranger said she understood patients’ frustrations but urged them to stop taking them out on frontline staff.

“If reasonable people can vent their frustration at their MP or their government, I think that’s probably a more constructive way,” she added.

“We’ve got to start to get a sense of hope because at the moment, it just feels more and more despairing.”

Ranger added that the government did not appear to be taking the crisis facing the profession seriously, adding that the inadequate pay award for nurses was “an absolute kick in the teeth with regard to their value”.

Last month, ministers heralded the fact that more than 50,000 additional nurses were working in the NHS in England compared with 2019, meeting a manifesto commitment. However, official figures also showed more than 42,000 registered nurse vacancies.

Caroline Nokes, chair of the women and equalities select committee, which recently heard evidence about sexual violence in healthcare from Ranger and other senior female health leaders, said: “Her evidence about the scale of patient on nurse violence was horrific. She recounted nurses being bitten, having limbs broken, on top of verbal aggression. Our dedicated NHS staff are there to help people, not to be abused in this way, and staff shortages are being exacerbated by experienced staff just choosing to leave altogether because of the appalling conduct of some patients.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

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