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Hospital violence ‘going through the roof’, says CEO

Published on: 13 Dec 2023

A London acute trust is planning to provide staff working in frailty units with body cameras and those in antenatal clinics with additional security, as violence and aggression against them goes ‘through the roof’.

Matthew Trainer, chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust in north east London, described the measures the trust is planning to take in response to growing staff concerns about their safety.

Speaking at a King’s Fund event about making NHS careers more attractive, Mr Trainer said: “We need to understand the impact of violence and aggression against the workforce and that’s going through the roof just now.

“Our ultrasound technicians have now asked for help as their antenatal scans are becoming so fraught. We are about to introduce body cameras in our frailty wards to help with the increase in violence and aggression against staff there.”

Mr Trainer – who joined BHRUT in 2021 from Oxleas Foundation Trust – said a long-running problem with violence and aggression in emergency departments was spreading to other departments.

Speaking last week, Mr Trainer stressed the main problem, particularly in frailty units, was not patients’ own behaviour, but that of family and friends visiting them.

In the ultrasound department, there were growing cases where parents wanted to bring more than one person into a scan with them and had become abusive when larger groups were asked to leave.

BHRUT later confirmed in a statement body cameras would be rolled out in January for clinical staff working in both its emergency departments and frailty units at Queen’s Hospital and King George’s Hospital. It is also increasing visible security presence in some areas, to reassure staff.

According to the most recent NHS Staff Survey, 27.8 per cent of all staff experienced harassment, bullying and abuse from patients, relatives or other members of the public, a small rise from 27 per cent in 2020. 

The use of bodycams in healthcare is increasing, but so far they are most used by paramedics who are much more likely to experience violence. According to the Royal College of Nursing, there is growing evidence  that, although abusive incidents don’t necessarily decrease, staff feel safer and better supported if they have cameras.

The RCN has said they must operate within principles, including restricting access to the images and ensuring the underlying reasons for violence and aggression are tackled. 

However, Unison acting head of health Helga Pile said the union believed there was little evidence body cameras improved safety or help with prosecutions.

“Footage also raises issues of trust for patients who may feel uncomfortable disclosing personal information, and for staff concerned that employers are snooping on them,” she said. “The priority should be preventing these attacks from occurring in the first place.”