Protect NHS staff against violence and aggression

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2018 Health Care Service Group Conference
8 December 2017

Violence and aggression against NHS staff should never be tolerated. In England, some 70,555 NHS staff were assaulted in 2015/16, up four per cent on the previous year. Similar levels of violence are reported in the devolved nations. These assaults can have a catastrophic effect, not only the physical impact of the injury, but also the long-term effect of the psychological impact. People are traumatised and it takes many months to recover. Deliberate needle stick injuries, bites and spitting increases the risk of contamination of blood-borne viruses (BBVs) leaving staff receiving long courses of anti-viral treatments and regular tests to see if they have contracted a disease. UNISON is also concerned by the increasing reports of sexual assaults against health workers, many of whom are lone workers.

In the early 2000s, the UK government launched its “Zero Tolerance” campaign in response to an increase in violence against NHS staff, creating a new organisation called NHS Protect to take a national role in England reducing violence and aggression, setting the strategy on violence and supporting NHS organisations in the prosecution of offenders.

However, despite the year on year increase in attacks, conference notes that in England, NHS Protect ceased its functions on 1 April 2017. This has meant there is no national body with responsibility for protecting NHS staff. UNISON believes staff have been failed by the government, who seem as though they care more about fraud than they do about their safety. Conference notes that local NHS organisations have been left responsible for violence and aggression but without the leadership and strategic oversight that comes from a national body. Despite calls from a number of NHS leaders, trade unions, safety organisations, and groups of Local Security Management Specialists (LSMS), no one has accepted responsibility for what should be in place to ensure the functions and responsibilities formerly covered by NHS Protect are still met.

NHS Protect were responsible for setting the violence and aggression standards contained in the standard NHS Contract. They had a role in inspection and audit of NHS organisations, sharing alerts and links between police and LSMSs about members of the public who pose the greatest risk to NHS staff, and giving advice to employers on prosecution. In addition, they had a role collecting and providing statistical data to benchmark performance and proactively share good practice plus production of annual violence and aggression data. They also led on training, setting the competencies for conflict resolution and de-escalation training.

Conference agrees that NHS organisations carry the health and safety responsibilities for their staff and we should continue to campaign and ensure they are meeting their legal and ethical duties.

Conference calls on the SGE to campaign and lobby NHS England and the Department of Health to ensure that:

1)functions that were previously the responsibility of NHS Protect, are covered by an organisation through a formal national agreement with NHS England;

2)similar arrangements are in place to protect NHS workers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;

3)staff continue to receive de-escalation and conflict resolution training based on national competencies;

4)the Assaults Against Emergency Service Workers Bill is brought into law and leads to greater prosecution of offenders;

5)anyone expected to undertake restraint as part of their role must receive adequate training to do this safely.