View All Articles
  • 06 January 2023
  • 4 min read

Why Is Violence Against Nurses On The Rise And What Can Be Done About It?

Subscribe To Advice
    • Richard Gill
    • Mat Martin
  • 0
  • 4545
Any type of harassment, aggression or violence has no place in society, including in health and care. “Any type of harassment, aggression or violence has no place in society, including in health and care.”

Over the last two years, concerns around violence and aggression against nursing staff have been growing, according to RCN members.

The Impact On Health Workers And Patient Care

The negative impact that violence and abuse toward health workers can have on their health and wellbeing is well recognised, with resultant poor patient care an unwelcome consequence.

In England, both the NHS Long Term Plan and NHS People Promise aim to safeguard the health and wellbeing of NHS workers.

However, the 2021 NHS Staff survey of 220 Trusts found that 14.3% of NHS staff had experienced at least one incident of physical violence in the last 12 months.

Nursing and Midwifery Council executive director of professional practice, Professor Geraldine Walters is quoted as saying "Any type of harassment, aggression or violence has no place in society, including in health and care."

The impact on staff can be severe. Violent attacks contributed to nearly half (46.8%) of staff reporting feeling unwell due to work-related stress, with nearly a third (31.1%) contemplating leaving the health service.

Find healthcare jobs

1000s of jobs for nurses, AHPs, clinicians, care assistants, managers and more. Jobs in care homes, hospitals, and the community

Find jobs

Why Is This Happening?

Do you think that rising abuse against Registered Nurses in the health service can be attributed to any particular factor, or set of factors?

Speaking in February 2022, NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said “The vast majority of patients and the public show nothing but respect and thanks for the skilled care they receive, but the unacceptable actions of a small minority have a massive impact on the professional and personal lives of our…. colleagues”.

Stark Figures

In Northern Ireland, the RCN Employment Survey 2021 found almost a third (30.1%) of RCN members had experienced physical abuse during the previous 12 months, with two-thirds (66.7%) reporting suffering verbal abuse.

These figures are likely to be an under-reporting of the problem, with many such incidents remaining undocumented due to heavy workloads and time constraints.

Any type of harassment, aggression or violence has no place in society, including in health and care.

In Scotland, according to UNISON, more than 18,000 assaults on NHS staff were reported in the last year.

“One assault on NHS staff is one too many. Over 18,000 assaults…is simply unacceptable. And we are under no doubt that there is considerable under reporting. Working in the NHS is stressful enough without having to worry about your personal safety” said UNISON Scotland’s head of health, Matt Mclaughlin.

He continued: “Staff are under huge pressure due to the staffing crisis in the NHS and they need time to report incidents…They need to know if they report something it will be dealt with there and then...”

Get Hired

Upload or create your CV on Our CV building tool is designed specifically for UK healthcare. Use it to apply for jobs and get hired.

Get Hired

Under-staffing And Patient Waiting Times A Factor?

The union’s report recognised chronic under-staffing as a cause of assaults against staff. It also recognised that such under-staffing left little to no time to report incidents when they did occur.

Also highlighted is the need to reduce patient waiting times. The report stated: ‘The public have high expectations of their NHS and whilst it is not an excuse there needs to be a recognition that unreasonable waits and queues promote unreasonable behaviour.’

Do you agree with the UNISON report that understaffing and the resulting higher waiting times are responsible for the increased levels of abuse inflicted upon nursing and other healthcare staff?

The Right To Dignity, Respect And To Feel Safe At Work

In addition, a report carried out by Nursing Times and the union Unison in 2021 uncovered worryingly high rates of sexual harassment among nursing staff and students, with 60% of the more than 2,000 polled declaring they had experienced sexual harassment at work.

Responding to the Nursing Times report, NMC executive director of professional practice Professor Geraldine Walters, said: “The professionals on our register, whether working in the NHS or the wider health and care sector, have a right to dignity, respect and to feel safe. Any nurse, midwife or nursing associate who is concerned about their safety in and around the workplace should speak to their employer who will have a duty of care towards them.”

Subscribe and get even more - for free

Access peer-to-peer career insights, our self-help coaching guide, plus expert videos on wellbeing, self-care and mental health.


The Importance Of Reporting

If, as highlighted earlier, incidents go unreported due to time constraints and work pressures because of understaffing, what scope is there to address the causes of violence and harassment towards nursing and healthcare staff, even if they can be agreed upon, given that the health and social care sectors exist in a seemingly permanent state of crisis?

Please let us know what you think in the comments, and Like the article if you found it interesting.


About the author

I believe people working in healthcare should be able to choose to enjoy work. That is, choose an employer who reflects their values and provides them with a sustainable career. This leads to better patient care, higher retention rates and happier working lives in this most important employment sector.

    • Richard Gill
    • Mat Martin
  • 0
  • 4545

Want to get involved in the discussion
Sign In Join

Get Hired

Use your stored CV to apply for jobs and get hired.

Get Hired