‘Stress on services’ behind wave of assaults on mental health staff

Staff working in NHS mental health and learning difficulty services suffered 120 physical assaults a day last year, official figures reveal.

The NHS Security Management Service recorded 43,097 attacks on mental health and learning difficulty staff in 2004-5.

The figure includes incidents in community and in-patient settings, and is likely to raise more questions about the safety of services following last week’s National Patient Safety Agency report, which found at least 122 sexual assaults on patients in psychiatric wards from 2003 to 2005 (Official figures on mental health sexual assault claims do not add up).

Mental Health Nurses Association professional officer Brian Rogers said the numbers, revealed in parliament last week, were “staggering but sadly not that surprising”.

He said: “You’ve got in-patient services under tremendous stress. Most of the most experienced mental health nursing staff are tied up with administration and bureaucracy, leaving the most inexperienced and junior staff on the front line.”

And Rogers said illegal drugs were increasingly prevalent on wards and student nurses were not receiving training in managing violence and aggression.

 Mind chief executive Paul Farmer (pictured) said NHS staff had a right to carry out their jobs in safety but there was a major difference between Friday night alcohol-fuelled violence in accident and emergency wards and incidents resulting from psychosis.

He feared government plans to fine people who attack NHS staff could affect people whose behaviour arose from their condition. He also called for more activities to reduce boredom on wards.

A Security Management Service spokesperson said the organisation had launched specialist anti-violence training for mental health and learning difficulty staff in October 2005 and expected it to be delivered to all front-line staff by March 2008.

Occupations with highest percentage of staff experiencing violent assault

  • Protective services (eg police officers) 12.6%
  • Health and social welfare professionals (eg nurses, youth workers) 3.3%
  • Transport and mobile machine drivers 1.9%
    Source: British Crime Survey: 2002-3

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