Abusive NHS patients to be banned from receiving non-emergency care

Shaun Lintern
More than a quarter of staff, 28 per cent reported witnessing a mistake that could hurt patients in the last month, three per cent higher than in 2016: Getty/iStock

Patients who abuse NHS staff will be banned from receiving non-emergency care as new figures show more than one in four NHS staff have experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from patients, relatives or members of the public.

The annual survey of more than 560,000 NHS workers found one in seven staff, 15 per cent, had experienced physical violence in the last 12 months while 40,000 staff, 7.2 per cent, had faced some form of discrimination during 2019 – an increase from 5.8 per cent in 2015.

Black and minority ethnic staff are also 14 per cent more likely to experience violence from members of the public or patients while discrimination on the grounds of ethnic background increased by four percentage points since 2018.

A total of 13 per cent of staff reported being bullied, harassed or abused by their own manager in the past 12 months and almost a fifth, 19 per cent, said they had experienced abuse from colleagues.

The health secretary Matt Hancock has written to staff condemning the abuse and warning assaults on NHS workers will not be tolerated.

Under new plans NHS England said that from April NHS hospitals will be able to bar patients who inflict discriminatory or harassing behaviour on staff from receiving non-emergency care. Previously, individual NHS organisations could only refuse services to patients if they were aggressive or violent.

Hospitals will be required to act reasonably and take into account the mental health of the patient or member of the public.

The Department of Health and Social Care has also said a new agreement between the police, the NHS and the Crown Prosecution Service will make it easier to investigate and prosecute assaults or hate crimes against frontline staff.

New legislation introduced in 2018 has also seen jail terms for these who attack healthcare staff being doubled.

Racism was the most common form of discrimination in the 2019 staff survey, along with the highest levels of reported sexism and intolerance of religion and sexuality.

In a letter to NHS staff health secretary Matt Hancock said: “There is far too much violence against NHS staff, and too much acceptance that it’s part of the job. Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out. I’ve seen it for myself in A&Es, on night shifts, and on ambulances. I am horrified that any member of the public would abuse or physically assault a member of our NHS staff but it happens too often.

“It is appalling that this happens at all. Even more so that it happens disproportionately to black and minority ethnic staff. We will not tolerate assaults – physical or verbal – against NHS colleagues – staff or volunteers. You should not tolerate violence or abuse either. Being assaulted or abused is not part of your job.”

He urged staff to report any incidents of abuse and said all cases would be investigated.

The NHS staff survey is one of the largest workforce surveys in the world and has been conducted every year since 2003.

More than four-fifths of staff said they were satisfied with the care given to patients, this was up from 2018 but below the 2016 level of 83 per cent.

Almost nine out of 10 staff said they felt they made a difference for patients with two-thirds of staff, 69 per cent, saying they were able to deliver the care they wanted to.

Almost three-quarters of staff said there organisation acted to ensure errors in patient care were not repeated while 71 per cent said they would feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice.

More than a quarter of staff, 28 per cent reported witnessing a mistake that could hurt patients in the last month, three per cent higher than in 2016.

Other key results from the survey include:

  • 56 per cent of staff work extra unpaid hours on a weekly basis, although this is down from 60 per cent in 2015
  • More than 40 per cent have been made ill by stress in the last year; this has been an increasing trend from 2016 when it was 36 per cent
  • An upwards trend in the way NHS managers are perceived, with 71 per cent of staff saying they were satisfied with the support from their immediate manager
  • Morale among NHS staff is improving, with fewer staff looking to leave and describing better relationships with managers and colleagues

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: “It’s welcome news that according to over half a million NHS employees, staff morale is now improving, and patient safety scores are now at a five-year high. While teams across the country are under real pressure, NHS staff consistently go the extra mile for patients. So as a country we need to show the same commitment to them, which is why we are determined to clamp down on abuse and aggression in all its forms.”

Sue Covill, from the NHS Employers organisation, said: “We are pleased to see there have been some improvements in the results of the staff survey in key areas such as quality of appraisal, line manager support and more staff willing to recommend the NHS as a good place to work. There has also been some progress on staff health and wellbeing and equalities – but much more remains to be done.

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