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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 06:00 GMT
Violence against NHS staff 'rife'
Male and female nurses
Nurses were among the NHS staff surveyed
One in six NHS staff have faced physical violence, a survey has shown.

The finding was revealed in a Commission for Health Improvement survey of over 200,000 staff from across the NHS.

Three quarters of those questioned said they routinely worked longer than their contracted hours.

But despite long hours and the threat of violence, 73% of those questioned said they were "generally satisfied" with their jobs.

It can be very difficult to be happy in a workplace where you are at high risk of violent attack
British Medical Association spokesman
Staff in primary care, ambulance trusts and hospitals including nurses, doctors, managers and administrative staff completed the survey.

Preliminary results showed 37% had been harassed, bullied or abused at work in the previous 12 months.

Most incidents involved patients or their relatives, but a minority of staff said they had been harassed, bullied or abused by a manager or colleague.

A significant number of those who had experienced physical violence had not reported it.

'Work/life battle'

The survey also found that a fifth of staff had suffered an injury or illness as a result of moving or handling patients, needlestick or sharps injuries, falls or exposure to dangerous substances.

Almost 40% said they had experienced work-related stress in the previous year.

Forty-seven per cent said they had seen at least one error that could have harmed staff or patients in the preceding month.

Jocelyn Cornwell, acting chief executive of CHI, said: "It is concerning that almost one in six staff have experienced physical violence at work.

"Although this unfortunate statistic is comparable to other North European health care providers, more needs to be done to ensure staff can go about their work without the fear of being attacked."

She added: "There is clear evidence of connections between how staff are managed, how they feel about their work and the outcomes for patients.

"More needs to be done to ensure NHS staff are provided with an appropriate work/life balance even though most staff report that they are happy in their jobs.

"It is encouraging to see that the NHS is investing in its staff by providing so many with training and development."

'Tackle bullying'

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: "Doctors are happiest when they are left to do the job they were trained for and that is to use their skills to treat patients.

"However, it can be very difficult to be happy in a workplace where you are at high risk of violent attack, where your work can be dictated by political targets that distort clinical priorities and where you cannot introduce initiatives that help patients because of lack of funding."

A Royal College of Nursing spokeswoman said more should be done to tackle the problem of bulling and abuse between staff.

She said: "The vast majority of incidents are between patients and staff, or relatives and staff - but there is a significant number of people complaining of bullying from managers or colleagues.

"This is completely unacceptable, and something the NHS must tackle."

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: "The results of the survey mirror many of the issues that Unison has been campaigning on for years.

"We know the tremendous commitment that NHS staff display, and it simply cannot be right that they face a barrage of violence and abuse on an almost day to day basis."

'Crackdown needed'

NHS Chief Executive Sir Nigel Crisp said: "It is vitally important that our workforce are properly trained, protected and supported so they can give the best possible care to patients."

He added: "This is what we are working to do. We have a big increase in staff year on year. We have good training and development programmes.

"And we have a zero tolerance approach to violence against staff."

Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, added: "Ministers must act now to crack down on violence in hospitals."

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