MDU calls for government action on violence against healthcare workers

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) is calling on the government to take concerted action to prevent and reduce violence against healthcare staff.

In an article published in the MDU journal, which examines cases reported by members, the UK's leading medical defence organisation found that only a handful of doctors and other healthcare professionals seek advice each year. This is despite figures suggesting escalating violence and abuse against NHS staff. Of those that did contact the MDU, most wanted advice on draft statements to the police after a violent incident.

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, commented:

"Some studies estimate that up to 15% of UK healthcare workers have been assaulted at work. In an MDU survey of over 400 doctors, two thirds reported increasing levels of abuse, so it is concerning that so few doctors are coming to us for support. It may be an indication that most incidents do not result in further action and healthcare professionals and expected to 'put up and shut up', seeing the assaults as part of the job.

"This is despite there being government money available to reduce violent incidents. The NHS England Long Term Plan allocates £2 million a year from 2019/20 on programmes to reduce violence, bullying and harassment of NHS staff. There should be a bigger focus on the NHS violence reduction strategy and greater transparency on how the money allocated in the plan is actually being spent on preventive action and training for staff most at risk."

The analysis of MDU member case files found:

  • 25% were the victim of an assault in a healthcare setting, the remainder were witnesses to a colleague's assault
  • in nearly 40% of cases the perpetrator of violence had either mental illness, dementia or a learning disability
  • in two cases, staff were assaulted by relatives of patients they were actively resuscitating
  • in most cases, healthcare professionals wanted advice on what information could be disclosed in a statement to third parties such as the police, following an incident
  • in primary care, the most common query was about removing patients from the practice list after they had been violent.

An earlier survey by the MDU of 418 doctors found that 44% of GPs and 33% of consultants and hospital doctors had experienced bullying, abuse or harassment from patients or relatives while at work. As well as this, 6% of doctors had experienced physical violence.

The article includes learning points to help frontline staff reduce the risk of being caught up in a violent situation at work. These include being aware of the underlying causes of violence to better judge the risk, recognising warning signs of escalating behaviour and trying to remain calm and professional when faced with challenging behaviour.

This page was correct at publication on 08/11/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.