Covid Scotland: 13,000 assaults on NHS staff in a year

Almost 13,000 incidents of physical and verbal abuse towards NHS staff have been reported in a year, new figures show.

In the 12 months to November 2021, some 7,271 incidents of physical assault were reported across all mainland health boards, alongside 5,496 reports of verbal abuse or threats.

The Scottish Ambulance Service also recorded 146 physical assaults and 113 incidents of verbal abuse, according to figures obtained by the Scotsman under the Freedom of Information Act.

Several health boards also recorded other types of abuse separately, including bullying, harassment, hate crime and sexual assault.

Photo by Andrew Milligan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

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While the above figures refer only to abuse directed at staff from patients, other incidents were recorded from other staff and family members of patients.

Health boards said they have a “zero tolerance” approach to abuse of staff.

“We take each and every incident extremely seriously as it is a fundamental right of our staff that they can carry out their duties without having to face any kind of violence or the threat of violence,” said a spokesperson for NHS Tayside.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said there were 2,479 assaults and threats in that health board alone in the first six months of 2021, with almost 100 attacks following in the first eight days of August.

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“Staff continue to work tirelessly to ensure patients and service users receive the best care, against the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, but are being subjected to both verbal and physical abuse, while simply trying to do their jobs,” a spokesperson said.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone and we continue to rely on the professionalism of all our doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, support staff across our acute, mental health and community settings to provide the best care and support.

"Our staff come to work to help people, support patients and their families, deliver vital care and save lives.

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"All we ask is that visitors, patients and service users treat our staff with respect to allow us to continue to care for those needing medical attention in a safe and comfortable workspace.

"We would like to thank the thousands of people who use our services and treat our exceptional staff with the respect they deserve. We urge the minority who behave in an aggressive or violent way to do the same.

"We fully encourage and support staff in their pursuit of taking the perpetrators of violence against them through the justice system.”

Several health boards noted that many incidents of abuse are linked to patients with complex conditions.

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"Some patients who are admitted to hospital have complex conditions and challenging behaviour and we have mandatory training for appropriate staff to enable them to manage violent or potentially violent individuals,” said a spokesperson for NHS Lanarkshire.

A spokesperson for NHS Grampian said that incidences of violence and aggression against staff are “generally due to an underlying clinical condition meaning that the person may have little control over their behaviour”.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: ‘Our staff should not have to fear for their safety when treating patients and keeping them safe is of paramount importance to us”.

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