A record number of NHS staff were attacked at work last year, official figures suggest.
There were an estimated 112,000 attacks on NHS staff last year
According to the Department of Health, there were 112,000 violent or abusive incidents involving NHS staff between April 2001 and March 2002.
Officials have also revised upwards their estimates for the number of people who were attacked during the preceding 12 months.
Figures published last year suggested over 84,000 NHS staff were involved in violent or abusive incidents between April 2000 and March 2001. The latest estimates indicate the true number may have been 101,000.
The figures were outlined in a parliamentary written reply to MPs.
The Department of Health said the increase reflected the fact that more people were now reporting incidents to their managers.
However, these figures may underestimate the true extent of the problem not least because they are based to a large extent on surveys rather than actual reports.
A report by the National Audit Office, published in March, suggested that thousands of violent or abusive incidents against NHS staff go unreported.
It suggested staff are reluctant to make formal complaints because they do not believe they will be fully supported by their managers.
Health Minister John Hutton told MPs that action was being taken to ensure more robust figures are available in future.
The number of attacks against NHS staff is still clearly rising
He said the new NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service had been given responsibility for tackling violence against NHS staff in April.
Mr Hutton said: "The programme of work they will be taking forward includes introducing a strengthened national reporting system to record incident of violence and aggression against staff using a common definition with the ability to track cases through to conclusion.
"This is intended to give the NHS hard and accurate information around incidents and outcomes, particularly where a criminal or civil sanction is pursed to deal with offenders."
Mr Hutton said NHS trusts had launched 51 prosecutions between June 2002 and March 2003.
The Department of Health ordered trusts, last year, to consider backing a prosecution against an individual in cases where the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to.
A spokeswoman said: "The safety of staff working in the NHS is paramount. There can be no excuse for violent and abusive behaviour towards NHS staff and it must not be tolerated in the modern NHS."
Unison, which represents over 400,000 NHS staff, said tougher action is needed against people who attack health workers.
"The number of attacks against NHS staff is still clearly rising," a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.
"We would like to see a more robust approach when it comes to penalties for people found guilty of attacking health workers.
"For instance, people know when they attack a police officer they are going to get a tough sentence.
"We would like to see that extended to all public sector workers, but particularly health workers."