Mental healthcare is a rewarding vocation and invaluable for patients but this supportive environment can sometimes leave people vulnerable to attacks, violence and intimidation.
BBC figures (from two-thirds of UK mental health trusts) find that assaults on staff have risen by 25% in the last four years. The results showed 42,692 reported assaults in 2016/17 compared to 33,620 in 2012/13.
It is not just staff safety, as figures show 17,000 assaults by patients on other patients last year. This report also highlights the shocking details of a healthcare assistant being stabbed to death and a worker having part of their thumb bitten off.
It is important to understand the underlying causes of rising figures. In a separate survey by public-service union Unison, 42% of responders reported violence last year, with nearly one-third saying levels of violence had risen over the last year. Many blamed staff shortages and overuse of agency nursing staff for contributing to problems.
The wider cost
The threat of intimidation or violence can have negative effects on staff morale and well being. Figures from health minister Philip Dunne suggest NHS staff have 17m days off a year due to illness, a 6% increase since 2012 which costs £2.4bn a year. Anxiety and depression are key contributors to these figures.
Mental healthcare has intrinsic risks but sensible planning and intelligent use of technology minimises these. Nurse call and mobile alert systems can be utilised to empower staff by summoning help quickly and easily, along with location details.
Assistance teams need to know exact locations of incidents and who is involved. Ideally, systems need to automatically monitor safety, for peace of mind and efficient use of security and support resources.
These worrying figures demonstrate the importance of effective communications, in order to give staff the confidence and reassurance they need to do their job – to the best of their ability, while still feeling safe.