One in seven mental health workers suffered physical violence from service users or members of the public last year, official figures have shown.
The NHS Staff Survey revealed that 15% of mental health professionals had experienced physical assaults, while 18% had suffered bullying, harassment and abuse from service users or the public in 2010.
The figures showed that mental health staff did not only have the second highest rate in physical and verbal abuse across the NHS, but also the second highest in work-related stress, behind ambulance staff in both cases. Thirty-one per cent of mental health workers reported suffering from stress in the past year, compared with 32% of ambulance staff.
Analysis of the findings, published by the Care Quality Commission, shows that the proportion of mental health staff experiencing physical violence had fallen slightly since 2009, when 18% reported the same issue. No historical data is available for incidents of bullying and harassment.
However, only 40% of the staff across the NHS who suffered verbal abuse and 51% of those who experienced physical assaults at work felt their employer would take effective action.
Last year Mental Health Matters, a charity in the North East, was fined £30,000 for failing to protect a support worker, Ashleigh Ewing, who was stabbed to death by a service user in 2006.
Dave Munday, professional officer at the Mental Health Nurses Association, part of the Unite union, said: “Unfortunately there are some employers who don’t take the issue of violence at work seriously or just accept that it’s part of the job.
“Their staff deserve better support than that.”
Munday said some community mental health workers had raised concerns about having to visit a potentially violent service user at home and had not been satisfied with the response from their employer.
“Sometimes the only response is ‘take a student with you’,” he said. “Sometimes you get situations where police officers would only attend with two or three officers, but mental health workers are expected to go in there on their own.”
He added that more training was needed for staff in defusing violent situations, and employers should provide better risk assessments and share data among staff.
Julian Topping, programme lead for health, work and wellbeing at the NHS Employers organisation, said recent research had shown that health staff feel increasingly able and encouraged to report violent incidents.
“The NHS staff survey this year suggests an improvement in the reporting of incidents of violence and abuse,” he said.
Topping added: “Staff who work in mental health or the ambulance service are more likely to encounter violence or abuse than other groups but, as with the wider NHS, the overall trend over the past decade is a clear and ongoing fall in the number of these incidents.”
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