Care to stop violence

THREATS, nasty behaviour, psychological torment and bullying. It s not the far-fetched storyline of the latest hard-hitting TV drama, nor the synopsis for a star studded Hollywood movie currently in production. No, this is precisely the type of thing the

THREATS, nasty behaviour, psychological torment and bullying. It's not the far-fetched storyline of the latest hard-hitting TV drama, nor the synopsis for a star studded Hollywood movie currently in production.

No, this is precisely the type of thing the nation's beleaguered nurses are having to face every single day when they go to work.

According to research just released by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), violent attacks against those in the caring profession are soaring and their psychological well-being is suffering as a direct result.

Little wonder really when you consider what they have to contend with as they try their best to treat, plaster, stitch, bandage and care for members of the public who are in urgent need of medical attention.

Researchers for the latest RCN survey were shocked to discover that four out of 10 of those quizzed said they had been harassed or assaulted either by patients or their relatives in the last 12 months, representing an unnerving increase of six per cent since 2000.

But it doesn't stop there. Among those working on the front line in accident and emergency departments up and down the country, that figure rises to an astonishing 79 per cent.

Most Read

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of the survey's respondents said they had actually been physically attacked at work, with almost half claiming that they had been assaulted in the previous year.

Nearly 3,000 nurses from across the UK took part in the RCN's Working Well - At Breaking Point survey, answering questions about the many aspects of their working lives, including issues such as bullying and stress.

The survey investigated the ways in which nurses are exposed to stress at work, according to standards set by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the sort of impact this has.

Shock results reveal that nurses experience more stress than perhaps the vast majority of the general working population which is perhaps unsurprising in light of all the antisocial behaviour and attitudes they usually end up bearing the brunt of.

But violent and abusive attacks by patients and relatives aren't the only things to blame. There are several other complicated and deeply engrained factors at play which also contribute to making our nurses' working lives a misery.

Among them are bullying, work demands, control over their work and relationships with colleagues, researchers said.

In 2000, 17 per cent of nurses said they had been bullied or harassed at work, but by 2005 nearly a quarter reported being on the receiving end of such behaviour in the last 12 months.

Almost half (45 per cent) of those who said they had suffered in this way confessed that a manager was the source of the problem, while over two thirds of people who had actually spoken out about bullying problems said that they were unhappy with the outcome.

Researchers warned that low scores on the HSE stress scale are associated with lower levels of job satisfaction and a greater desire to start job-hunting elsewhere, things which are probably helping to fuel the current recruitment and retention problems the sector is battling against.

The upshot of all this violence, bullying and plummeting levels of happiness and job satisfaction is that levels of psychological well-being among nurses is nose-diving - and is considerably poorer than that of the general populous.

Four out of 10 nurses were found to have varying degrees of problems in this area, with 14 per cent, rather worryingly, experiencing raised levels of distress where some help may be required.

A further 14 per cent scored as 'psychologically healthy, but experiencing some difficulties' and a further 12 per cent are experiencing 'a broader range of difficulties'.

Beverly Malone, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Nursing is a hugely rewarding profession, but this survey demonstrates the tough issues that nurses are facing every day on top of a job that is physically and mentally demanding.

"Added to these pressures, nurses are being threatened with yet more reforms, pay cuts and job losses," she added.

"We have got to tackle these problems if we are going to bring more people into nursing and stop others leaving.

"We must make nurses' working lives much better and much safer so that they can focus on caring for their patients and creating a safe healing environment."

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said that as part of the continued drive to protect NHS staff, the Government is considering proposals to take action against verbally abusive patients and relatives who abuse staff.

She said: "This shows that offenders can no longer regard NHS staff as soft targets, and those who do abuse staff face punishment."

It will be interesting to see if the proposed reforms make any difference to the results of future RCN surveys - and whether they have a positive impact for nurses.