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2007 Health Care Service Group Conference
29 December 2006
Carried as Amended

This Conference asks the Service Group Executive to mount national action to drive forward the Zero Tolerance campaign of no verbal abuse, aggression or unacceptable behaviour towards healthcare staff.

Conference is particularly concerned at the growing problem of aggression from visitors to frontline staff such as bedside nurses working in clinical areas in High Dependency, Coronary Care, Stepdown and Intensive Care Units where patients are admitted for closer, more detailed observation and monitoring of their clinical conditions.

Conference recognises that violence and aggression in all their manifestations of physical and verbal abuse, bullying and harassment are experienced frequently by most frontline NHS Staff. In areas such as these units however, it is more complicated and therefore difficult because Nursing Staff are exposed longer to bad behaviour from visitors for the duration of their shift and are unable to walk away from abusive behaviour due to the nature of the specialty.

In some cases abusive actions from visitors have become more sinister – the sort that has stepped up a level from nuisance to the kind which demonstrates utter contempt, continuous interference and a complete lack of understanding and respect for the care and treatment being given to their relatives. This results in psychological trauma for Nursing Staff already working in a high stress environment.

This is often compounded by a failure in the organisation, which fails in their duty of care to protect Nursing Staff from harassment by visitors who cause these staff to take valuable time fending off abusive actions when it could be spent on caring for the patient.

Conference welcomes the successful Health and Safety Executive prosecution of NHS Western Isles in 2005. This case was particularly significant as it represented the first successful prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 where there the violent behaviour was verbal and harassment rather than physical abuse. Conference believes that more of these actions should be taken against employers, if only to make the organisations take their duty of care to their staff seriously.

National legislation in this area needs to be strengthened. Advice and policy statements contained in both national documents and local hospital policies/procedures need to be standardised across the NHS. Some hospitals enforce these policies through the presence and use of security staff or the police. Others, however, do nothing except record incidents with no action being taken to improve strategies to protect staff. This is especially true for nurses working in the highly stressful areas mentioned above.

The Nursing Profession is ageing with over 60% of the NMC Register over the age of 40 years old. Never has the protection and safety of Nursing Staff been more paramount than now during a period of major organisational change, new ways of working and skill mix reviews which, in reality, translates as fewer nurses working under greater pressure to care for the critically ill.

Conference also welcomes the extension of the funding of the Scottish Executive/STUC partnership project tackling the unacceptability of violence and aggression to workers facing the public. This campaign is focused on challenging behaviours of members of the public but more importantly is about giving individual members of staff the power, skills and support to challenge cultures of violence and aggression, ensuring that this is not taken to be ‘part of the job’. Conference recognises that this work being undertaken by the NHS Health Scotland could bring real benefits to all health workers in Scotland and calls on the SGE to lobby for a similar project with the Department of Health in addition to extending existing Zero Tolerance work.