Obstacles to staff safety and well-being in the NHS

Obstacles to staff safety and well-being in the NHS

Opinion

IFSEC Global

IFSEC Global hears from Roger Ringham, President of the National Association for Health Care Security (NAHS) as he discusses barriers to the safety and well-being of NHS staff.

We know that violence and aggression against NHS staff is a problem. But how big the problem is, we can’t be sure. All we can do is make estimates, and judge our first-hand experiences working in healthcare security.

Roger Ringham, President of the National Association for Health Care Security (NAHS)

The reason for this is that there has been no comprehensive annual national survey since 2017.
In 2017, NHS Protect, which had been collecting reliable and fairly detailed numbers once a year, was dissolved. It was replaced by the NHS Fraud Authority, and while the body’s mission is important, it does not have the same jurisdiction to reduce violence in the workplace or to raise public standards in security management as its predecessor had.

This gap is a problem, and it’s something many in the profession, including NAHS, are keen to fix.

There is no exact picture

At the moment, the best data we have comes from limited sources such as the NHS staff survey. This is done annually but only includes some general questions – “Have you experienced or witnessed violence?” For example – it is not mandatory. So, it doesn’t give us an accurate picture of how many accidents happen each year across the NHS, or breaks those down by month, week or day, or shows their severity or type.

What the 2021 survey told us is: 14.3% of 600,000 people said they had experienced at least one incident of physical violence from patients, service users, relatives or other members of the public in the past 12 months. A much higher level of abuse was reported in the ambulance sector, where nearly a third of paramedics said they experienced violence.

We can supplement this picture with data collected annually by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Executive Director of Health and Safety.
But while the numbers we have are limited in scope, they are still trustworthy sources and confirm what many frontline employees will tell you: Verbal and physical aggression continues to fester.

Why is aggression important?

This is very important. I am currently working on a new conflict resolution course for NHS staff and managers, and one of my biggest concerns is the impact of aggression on both individuals and teams. When a frontline health worker is mistreated, it not only affects him personally but can have a negative impact on his close colleagues, and as a result results in lower standards of patient care.

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that aggression has a significant impact on employee absenteeism, hiring, and retention. I spent the first 30 years of my career in the police service, and dealt with some terrible things, but when I spend time with doctors and see what they have to deal with, it is much worse. If the reward for their dedication is being abused or physically abused, it is not surprising that they get sick, or decide they need to change jobs entirely.
When you stress them out with increased demand for services, staff shortages, and constant pressure on budgets – which we’re seeing now – these risks culminate in a downward spiral.

Only one anecdote from my personal experience shows what can happen when people and systems are under extreme stress: a mental health care nurse had a knife in her throat by a patient, the patient ran away, was caught by the police, and eventually returned to the health care unit. The nurse was not informed that the suspect had been arrested, and when she entered the ward, the first person she saw was the man who attacked her. Understandably, she was deeply shaken by this experience. This should not have happened, and her shock could have been prevented if she had been forewarned.
Not anyone’s fault, but the result of 24/7 conveyor belt service where a large turnover can mean managers not transferring essential details from one shift to the next, which can lead to additional challenges.

I’m looking for answers

So how can we prevent things from getting worse? We need better regulatory oversight, better reporting, and higher standards for security training and education. We also need clearer protocols for dealing with incidents, more effective sharing of best practices – including with regard to technological innovations – and better partnerships with other agencies, and more explicitly with the police.

These are all topics we’ll be discussing at the NAHS Annual Conference in November – which this year features an extensive program of expert speakers.
For IFSEC Global’s regular readers, I will also look at these issues in more detail in a series of quarterly articles on this site.
See this space. Until then – stay safe, keep your employees safe.

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#Obstacles #staff #safety #wellbeing #NHS

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