A hospital worker is assaulted almost every day on average in Sheffield, shock figures reveal.
A Freedom of Information request shows staff at the Northern General, Royal Hallamshire, Weston Park Cancer Hospital, Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital and Charles Clifford Dental Hospital were physically attacked 358 times in 2017/18.
And the number of reported attacks has risen by about a third in the last five years – up from 270 incidents in 2013/14.
Hospital bosses said a lot of the attacks are carried out by patients affected by their medical condition who may not be fully in control of their actions.
But unions which represent staff said attacks are often carried out by patients fueled by alcohol and blamed the rise on cuts to other NHS services which is putting hospital staff under increased pressure.
Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing in Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “It is distressing to see that these figures are increasing.
“All workers have the right to feel safe at work and it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that measures are taken to protect staff from harm.
“There is no doubt that improved staffing levels and properly funded services would help to mitigate the risk that patients become violent or aggressive.
“Increasingly we are seeing people who could have been treated or cared for elsewhere turning up at hospital and this adds pressure on services and staff there.
“Cuts to community and mental health services have a knock-on effect that is rarely considered when it comes to short-term cost-cutting.”
For the year 2017/18 the majority of the attacks happened at the Northern General with 290 incidents, followed by the Royal Hallamshire with 61.
Six attacks happened at Weston Park, one at Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital and there were none at the Charles Clifford Dental Hospital.
Between April 2013 and March 2018 there were 1419 reported attacks across all sites.
Mr Turp described being a victim of violence as “extremely distressing and frightening” and added this was a major factor in encouraging the RCN to campaign to make it a specific offence to assault health care staff or other emergency workers.
He added the issue of attacks on staff will be raised at the union's next regular meeting with hospital bosses.
Pat Pepper, regional officer for Unite, which staff across many departments at the trust, said: “Unite takes a zero-tolerance stance against those who are violent and abusive towards hard-pressed NHS staff who are doing their very best in often stressful circumstances to alleviate pain and suffering.
“We do know from the statistics that this is a major problem for frontline staff, but, at present, I am not currently dealing with any issues from our members on this subject.
“However, we remain vigilant and urge the hospital management to maintain robust polices to stamp out such physical and verbal assaults, often fuelled by excess alcohol, which have no place in the NHS or any other workplace in the UK.”
In a statement, the trust said attacks happen across all departments and not just at accident and emergency.
Kirsten Major, interim chief executive of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, stressed that more than two million patients are treated per year and the majority of assaults happen as a result of patients' 'medical condition' rather than being deliberate acts of violence.
She added: “We have a zero tolerance approach to any deliberate verbal or physical abuse against our staff and take considerable precautions to limit the chances of our staff coming to harm.
“We know when people are ill they are at their most vulnerable and emotional but we would just ask that they remember that everyone in our hospitals and community services are only trying to do their best for them and deserve to be treated with the appropriate respect and behaviour.”
Superintendent Paul McCurry, of Sheffield Police, said: “Violence against hospital staff will not be tolerated and we encourage staff to report such incidents, so that we can investigate them.
“Protecting people is our priority and as part of our work to tackle all types of crime, we identify repeat demand locations and work closely with the relevant partners and agencies.
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“We are currently working with our partners to explore ways of designing out violence, which in turn should reduce the demand for policing.
“The aim is to understand the nature of the incidents and target our resources appropriately.”