Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 01:36 GMT
Nurses fear attacks at work
Half of the nurses say they have considered leaving their jobs
More than seven out of 10 nurses feel safer on the streets than in the hospitals where they work, according to new research.
A survey of 1,000 nurses across the UK, carried out by the Nursing Times and the Royal College of Nursing, revealed that 72% did not feel safe from assaults at work, compared with 65% who said they felt safer from verbal and violent attacks away from hospital.
In response to the survey, the Department of Health said it was putting measures in place to prevent violence against nurses in the workplace.
More than 80% of nurses said they now face more physical and verbal aggression than when they began in the job.
And almost half of the nurses polled said they had considered leaving the profession because of the attacks.
Auxiliary nurse Carol Harmon told how she was attacked by a drunken woman at Hope hospital in Salford, Manchester.
She said: "I had a bruised and dislocated jaw, she'd also perforated my ear drum and I had bruises on my body.
"I couldn't scream, I couldn't shout out, even though a colleague of mine was in the next room, because I was using all my effort to stop her hitting me.
"I felt very angry that she could actually come into my place of work and attack me because she'd had a drink."
Ms Harmon added: "I coped by thinking 'I'm not going to let her win' so I came back into work and just tried to carry on."
Steve Walker, an Accident and Emergency charge nurse in Salford, carried a hidden camera for World In Action to record the abuse hurled at him and his workmates.
He said that nurses have been punched, kicked, bitten, spat at and threatened with knives. He also said that he was hit in the face by a patient's relative.
"It seems to be an ongoing battle," he said.
"Years ago it used to be an infrequent problem. Now it seems to be certainly weekly and often daily, particularly at night when the staff are subjected to all kinds of violence, not just minor abuse ... now it seems to be increasingly physical as well."
Mr Walker added: "Most nurses, from those figures, obviously feel it's safer walking home at night or going about their general routine during the day away from work than they actually do being at work."
The Department of Health said in a statement that ministers were "very concerned" about the levels of violence against staff working in the NHS.
"That is why they have set up a cross-government drive working with the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the CPS to bring down levels of violence against all staff in the NHS.
"In addition to this, the Department of Health is putting strategies in place to make the NHS a better place to work, and to bring down levels of violence.
"There will be national performance targets to meet which will be monitored by the National Health Service Executive (NHSE)."
The statement pointed out that at the Labour Party Conference last month, Health Secretary Frank Dobson said: "We also need the right staff with the right skills and we have got to look after them better. We are going to make sure that louts who assault nurses, doctors and ambulance staff get caught and punished."