Unions call for action as violence toll on frontline care workers is revealed

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UNIONS want action after a survey revealed the extent of violent attacks on staff caring for Doncaster’s mental health patients and people with severe learning disabilities.

A survey by Balby-based RDaSH - the Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust - reveals hundreds of its staff members working in frontline jobs suffered violence from patients or service users, their relatives, or the public.

The highest rate of violence is against staff at the learning disability secure unit at St Catherine’s Hospital in Balby, where 62 per cent of the 50 staff members reported being victims of an attack.

Among the 500 staff working in older people’s mental health services operated in Doncaster, Rotherham and North Lincolnshire, 28 per cent suffered violence.

And 25 per cent of the 500 people working in learning disability services in Doncaster had endured physical assaults.

A further 21 per cent of the trust’s 800 staff in adult mental health services in Doncaster, Rotherham and North Lincolnshire reported attacks.

But both the unions and the trust believe the actual figure could be far higher - and the results of the survey could be the tip of the iceberg.

Joan Keane, the Yorkshire regional lead officer for health, equality and inclusion for the GMB union, said the statistics probably did not paint the full picture.

She wants the trust to look at what it does to protect staff.

She said: “We know people do not report a lot of incidents where they are attacked.

“We are talking largely about people with mental health issues who don’t know what they are doing to an extent. To an extent people accept this as part of their job.

“But I think the other aspect is that employees don’t report things because they worry they may get into trouble, because people may think they’d done something wrong or not dealt with the situation.

“But people working for the NHS should not have to expect to come to work and be physically abused. I think there is a duty for the NHS to protect not only patients, but staff too.”

She added: “I think it is endemic in the NHS, particularly in the parts dealing with vulnerable people.

“But I would urge the trust to look at how their policies are implemented on this. Saying, ‘We won’t accept abuse of staff’ is one thing - dealing with it is another.”

RDaSH chief operating officer Ian Jerams said the figure at the trust was actually lower than the NHS average for the sort of services it provided.

He also stressed that most people with mental illness or learning disabilities do not pose any danger.

He said: “These are figures for dealing with in-patients, where we are dealing with a small number of individuals with challenging behaviour through disability or mental health issues.

“These are not generally intentional acts of violence. For someone with dementia, they may not understand what is happening to them, and try to leave. Someone can then try to get them back and they swing their arms out at them.”

He said the trust tried to deal with the risk of assault by providing staff with intensive training and providing adequate staffing levels.

He added the specialist services involved had been made exempt from the Government spending cuts the trust was making.

He added: “We will look to try to support staff. But it is a very challenging area of care and we do not use medication as a sedative, what they sometimes call ‘the chemical cosh’, because that is not respecting people’s human rights.

“It is difficult and challenging work and we have huge respect for the staff.”