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Patient violence against staff falls to five-year low

Published on: 6 Jun 2024

The proportion of NHS staff who have experienced physical violence from patients has fallen to its lowest levels in five years, according to the latest survey data.

New figures showed the percentage of staff reporting at least one incident of physical violence from patients or the public, within the last 12 months, had declined from 15.1 per cent in 2019, down to 13.7 per cent in 2023. That is also almost one percentage point lower than 14.6 per cent in 2022, which is the biggest year-on-year percentage point fall in the five years. 

The 2023 NHS staff survey, first published in early March, was updated recently to include the questions on physical violence. NHS England said earlier this week it had received a “higher than expected rate of missing data” for the questions, which meant they were not originally reported, but these issues had now been resolved. 

However, ambulance workers remain disproportionately affected by physical violence compared to other roles, with 27.6 per cent saying they had experienced at least one instance of physical violence from patients or the public in the past year. This is down from 32.5 per cent five years ago in 2019.

Acute and community staff were the next highest (13.7 per cent), followed by mental health (13.5 per cent), community (7 per cent), and then acute specialist (5.3 per cent).

The proportion of staff who have experienced physical violence from managers remains very small, at 0.71 per cent. This is higher than in 2019 when it was 0.58 per cent.

Similarly, 1.7 per cent had experienced physical violence from colleagues, a decline from 1.8 per cent last year but higher than 1.5 per cent in 2019.

It comes as staff reported the highest-ever levels of discrimination recorded in the annual NHS staff survey, reaching nearly one in 10. At the same time, a similar percentage said they had experienced unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature in the workplace.

Separate survey figures for bank staff found a much higher rate – 23.7 per cent – had experienced at least one incident of physical violence from patients or the public within the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, 30.2 per cent of bank staff said they had experienced at least one incident of harassment, bullying or abuse within the past 12 months from patients, service users or other members of the public. For nursing and healthcare assistants, this figure was 50 per cent, followed by 24.2 per cent for registered nurses.