Health staff in South Yorkshire under rising threat of physical attack

Sheffield's Childrens Hospital
Sheffield's Childrens Hospital
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Thousands of health workers in South Yorkshire have been assaulted at work, shocking new figures have revealed.

More than 3,400 workers were assaulted at South Yorkshire health trusts between April 2012 and March 2013.
But union bosses say the number of incidents could be just the tip of the iceberg because verbal attacks are not included in the figures.

Sheffield's Northern General Hospital

Sheffield's Northern General Hospital

At Sheffield Health and Social Care, which treats people with dementia and mental health problems, 805 workers were attacked, while at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals the figure was just under 200.

At Sheffield Children’s Hospital, 223 employees were assaulted.

But across the county, just 11 people were brought to book with criminal action for their violent behaviour, even though 383 attacks were deliberate and not sparked by medical conditions.

Charlie Carruth, regional organiser for trade union Unison, said: “The problem we face is that these are only the incidents that are reported – verbal abuse is routine and not reported.

Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital

Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital

“There has to be a new culture of respect for NHS staff and what they do and this message has to come from the top.

“Some of the assaults are serious, sustained incidents not just one-off lashing out – perhaps because of stress, pain or simple intoxication.

“These should be cracked down on as they demonstrate premeditation and conscious action by a minority.”

Prof Hilary Chapman, chief nurse at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “We have a zero-tolerance approach to any verbal or physical abuse against our staff and take considerable precautions to limit the chances of our staff coming to harm, which includes regular training.

“We also report assaults to police.

“However, figures reported also include a high proportion of incidents where patients have not been deliberately aggressive or violent.

“The incident has often been as a result of their medical condition at the time. Last year we had 199 reported incidents, of which only six were deliberate. Despite this, we would once again ask all patients and visitors to respect our staff so they can deliver care without fear of abuse or violence.”

John Reid, director of nursing and clinical operations at the children’s hospital, said its figures were skewed because it also runs the Becton Centre in Beighton, one of the largest mental health units for young people in the country.

He said: “All of the incidents in the report were linked to medical factors.

“When compared with other mental health units, the incidents of assaults upon staff are among the lowest nationally.

“In the tables we have, however, been grouped with other units that do not have psychiatric responsibilities.”

Clive Clarke, deputy chief executive at Sheffield Health and Social Care, said the ‘majority’ of incidents there were ‘lower-level’ – such as pushing and shoving.

He said: “We encourage staff to report any incident of physical assault, no matter how minor.”

Nationally, assaults rose by nearly 6 per cent, from 59,744 in 2011-12 to 63,199 in 2012-13. Criminal sanctions rose by 201, from 1,257 to 1,458.

Richard Hampton, head of local support and development services at NHS Protect, said: “Employers must do all they can to support staff in preventing incidents and pursuing offenders.”

David Clayton, security manager at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals, said: “Our staff are here to care for patients and they should not be subjected to any form of aggression or violence.”

Assault statistics

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals - total 199; medical factors 193; deliberate 6

Sheffield Children’s Hospital - total 223; medical factors 223; deliberate 0

Sheffield Health and Social Care - total 805; medical factors 700; deliberate 105

Rotherham Hospital - total 104; medical factors 10; deliberate 94

Barnsley Hospital - total 39; medical factors 33; deliberate 6

South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Trust - total 716; medical factors 716; deliberate 0

Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals - total 166; medical factors 18; deliberate 148

Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Trust - total 1,194; medical factors 1,170; deliberate 24