Healthcare staff in the area are calling on patients to treat NHS staff with kindness and respect, as figures show rising incidents of abusive behaviour.
Cases of aggression and abuse towards staff have risen at many local NHS organisations since 2020, with incidents up by 17% at one local hospital trust and 38% at the region’s ambulance provider.
GP practices and community healthcare services are also reporting higher levels of abusive behaviour.
The increase prompted local NHS partners to launch a new zero tolerance campaign, ‘It’s Not OK’, earlier this year urging people to treat staff with respect.
And staff say the message remains as urgent as ever, as demand for healthcare services rises following the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Tina Whiting, a sister and emergency nurse practitioner at the emergency department at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, was assaulted by a member of the public whilst working in the department. In the year to March 2021, the Trust recorded 1,356 incidents of violence and aggression towards staff, an increase of 17% on the previous year.
Tina said: “I’ve worked at the BRI’s emergency department for 23 years and during this time the department has never experienced such high volumes of violent and aggressive incidents.
“The Trust has been extremely supportive and taken steps to help protect us. For example, in our department we now have body worn cameras that we can switch on to record such incidents. It is completely unacceptable that we are experiencing such terrible behaviour. We are here to help. Please respect us. Please allow us to do our job safely.”
Local GP practice manager Robyn Clark works at Kingswood Health Centre and has co-ordinated a national ‘zero tolerance’ awareness video from the Institute of General Practice Management urging patients to treat staff with kindness and respect.
Robyn said: “Demand for GP services has risen significantly during the pandemic but sadly so too has the abuse that practice staff face.
“Our video aims to show the good work that practice staff are doing, while urging the public to be patient with them. GP staff are doing an exceptional job to make sure that patients get the care they need and it’s shocking that so many are experiencing verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis.”
South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWAFT) is rolling out body-worn cameras in a bid to reduce violence and aggression against colleagues. The Trust recorded 1,917 incidents in the last year, including 345 physical assaults - representing a 38% rise from the previous year.
Paramedic Mike Jones, who is SWASFT’s Violence Reduction Lead, said: “We are delighted to be able to provide body-worn cameras to better protect all of our crews throughout the South West.
“Sadly our people continue to face a high and rising level of unacceptable behaviour while trying to provide emergency care to patients. This is having a profound and lasting impact on them, their colleagues and loved ones.
“We hope these cameras will deter many people from abusing our people, and know they could also help to prosecute those who do cause harm.
“They should also make our crews feel safer at work, and be able to do their jobs without fear of attack.
“Please respect our people, and help them to help you.”
Kyle Lansdown works for community healthcare provider Sirona care & health as the Locality Hub Manager for South Bristol, which includes the Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) at South Bristol Community Hospital, which has seen 26 reported incidents of staff abuse since the first full month of lockdown in April 2020.
Sirona also runs the Minor Injury Unit (MIU) in Clevedon and the MIU in Yate which have each seen three cases of staff abuse reported during the same time period.
Kyle said “We are here to help those who need us and our teams are dedicated to serving our communities by providing clinical care for those who need same day treatment but don’t need to go to an Emergency Department to be seen.
“We want to offer the same level of care to everyone who comes through the doors as we would want our own family to receive if they were in need of help.
“Our staff are not here to be sworn at, called names or in some cases lashed out at by the people they are trying to care for.
“These 32 incidents are the ones staff have viewed as serious enough to report, we suspect there are many more incidents, particularly of verbal abuse, which do not get reported because of how frequently it happens – our staff should not feel abuse is such an expected part of their day they don’t report it.
“It is simply not OK for anyone who comes to the UTC or one of our MIUs to treat our staff in this way.
“We would encourage anyone who needs our help to think about how they would want us to act towards them and treat whoever they meet in the UTC or MIUs in that way.”
Local GP and CCG clinical chair Dr Jonathan Hayes is one of many local health and care leaders supporting the campaign.
He said: “Our message is very clear: abusive behaviour will not be tolerated. We know that services are busy at the moment but that is no excuse for anti-social behaviour and it’s shocking that some providers are having to resort to technology such as body-worn cameras to protect their hardworking staff.
“Please remember that staff are people too, and deserve our respect. You can help them to help you, and avoid extended waits, by using the right service for your needs and contacting 111 if you need help urgently but aren’t sure where to go.”