People working in the NHS can face violence and threats – now the government is promising to tackle this problem.
So are NHS staff the professional group most at risk of violence in their workplace?
Until last year, national figures were produced on assaults on health staff – but the body responsible, NHS Protect was closed in April 2017.
The Department of Health says part of a new violence reduction strategy for the NHS will involve reintroducing a system of national reporting.
For now, we can look at the annual staff survey – it has a sample size of almost half a million or about 45% of NHS workers in England.
According to that, 15% of NHS staff have experienced physical violence at work in the last year.
The last national figures from NHS Protect we have on reported assaults on staff are from 2015-16 and suggest there was one assault per every 19 staff members.
Police and prison staff
Police officers and prison staff in England and Wales are even more likely to face violence in their day jobs, from the figures we have available.
In 2017-18, one in every five police officers and prison staff was assaulted.
There were 26,000 assaults on police officers and 8,429 on workers in prisons.
The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, says surveys of its members suggest these figures are much higher because not every incident will be reported.
These figures only cover violence which has been formally reported, unlike in the case of the NHS survey.
They also won’t be perfectly comparable, because across the public sector there are various processes and definitions in place for recording assaults.
For example, assaulting a constable is a specific offence (something which is being introduced for all emergency workers) and so those figures are readily available.
But these figures are likely to be an underestimate because they only cover those assaults that are recorded by the police as a crime.
Because there isn’t a system of national reporting when it comes to assaults at work for all professions, it’s tricky to work out how this compares to the average workplace. But we can look at some figures produced by the Office for National Statistics.
Each year, it asks households in England and Wales about their experiences of crime and as part of that it also produces some figures especially for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) broken down by occupation type.
There were 642,000 incidents of violence at work in 2016-17, according to the HSE, the public body charged with reducing work-related injuries, illness and deaths.
That equates to 0.5% of people being physically assaulted in their place of work in a year.
So it looks like people working in hospitals, prisons and police forces are at considerably higher risk of violence than the average.
People working in “protective services” – that is police and prison officers as well as fire fighters and ambulance workers – are most at risk of assault.
Health and social care professionals of various types were also more likely than average to experience violence at work.
Teachers and transport workers, while they were nowhere near as at risk as health, police or prison staff, were also subjected to more violence than many other categories of profession, according to the HSE.
It gave the example of bus drivers being subjected to robberies during which they have been threatened with “knives, air guns, even samurai swords”.
While health and care staff, whose jobs involve going into people’s homes, have reported being physically attacked and threatened and, in some cases, shut in rooms and not allowed to leave.
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