Increasing levels of staff abuse as pressure mounts on NHS services
Health leaders in the North East and North Cumbria are warning that NHS staff are facing increasing incidents of abuse from the public as the healthcare system braces itself for the very busy winter period.
Hospital, ambulance, GPs and other primary care staff should not be the target of verbal abuse or attacks, especially at a time when they are working harder than ever to cope with the ongoing pandemic and subsequent rise in demand for healthcare services.
Frontline staff across the region have been describing a growing volume of verbal abuse being faced at work when they are simply trying to do their job and care for others. This is particularly worrying at a time when demand is growing and staff have already worked tirelessly over the past 18 months on Covid-19 and the vaccination programme.
Last year, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust reported a 36% increase in the total number of incidents faced by staff, with verbal abuse more than doubling. Meanwhile, the North East Ambulance Service recently highlighted a rise in attacks on its staff and these type of incidents are having a demoralising impact on the workforce.
Hospitals, GPs and paramedics across the North East and North Cumbria are also managing another surge of pressure on vital services with many of the region’s hospitals seeing record daily numbers for A&E attendance, a huge increase in paediatric cases and ongoing Covid-19 patients requiring care.
Staffing and services are increasingly stretched after more than a year of managing the pandemic and vaccination roll-out.
As well as this, NHS teams – across hospitals and GP practices – still face challenges such as reduced space in clinical treatment areas and surgeries because of the need to follow strict infection control measures to ensure patients and staff continue to be safe.
To help cope with these pressures and ensure the people who need care the most can get it the NHS is asking people to:
- Think GP, NHS 111 online or pharmacy first before calling 111.
- Only contact 999 or attend an A&E/Emergency Department for serious or life-threatening problems
- Get your flu vaccinations or Covid booster as soon as you can once you are eligible.
- Understand that you may need to wait longer than usual.
- If you are visiting any healthcare settings, please remember to continue wearing a face covering, and use our hand-washing and alcohol gel facilities.
- Be kind – all our staff are doing their best to look after you, please be patient.
Speaking on behalf of the NHS in the region, Dr Neil Halford, interim medical director for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System (ICS), said: “While we appreciate that some people may be frustrated, there is no excuse for abusing our staff and this should not and will not be tolerated.
“Every part of the healthcare system is currently under huge pressure so please be patient and think carefully about the right NHS service for your needs. We’re seeing increasing numbers of people right across the system and our staff are doing their very best to make sure everyone can get the care they require as quickly as possible.
“We’re asking people to please only use services such as A&E or 999 for serious or life-threatening issues and use other options for less pressing healthcare needs.”
Stephen McKenna, clinical matron for medicine and emergency care services at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said violence and aggression seriously affects staff wellbeing and mental health and he is urging everyone to do their bit to support healthcare professionals across the region.
“Quite a lot of the violence and aggression we are facing at the moment is because of the relaxation of lockdown, social distancing rules and the wearing of face masks in the community,” he said. “But living with the virus in society is very different to living with the virus in a hospital environment, which is why Public Health England’s infection prevention control guidelines remain in place for all staff and visitors.
“We are asking all patients to continue to wear face coverings in our hospitals to support our healthcare teams and help keep them safe.
“The NHS is still very busy, but you can do your bit by thinking pharmacy, GP or 111 online first and by being respectful to staff and protecting them by wearing a face mask when you have to access any healthcare services. Please use the system systematically – don’t just come straight to A&E unless it is a life-threatening emergency.”
GPs across the region are also seeing huge pressures. Reception staff are trained to help prioritise patients to ensure those most in need are seen most urgently, and are a valued part of the GP team, but as the first point of contact are increasingly subjected to abuse.
Primary care is also working on the roll-out of the Covid booster programme and the flu programme, both vital in keeping people protected this winter.
Dr Neil O’Brien, a Durham GP and chair of the ICS vaccination board, said: “This is an increasingly tough time for everyone and we appreciate how difficult it can feel for the public at the moment. However, we know that lots of people are still trying to make GP appointments for very minor ailments instead of using self-care or seeing pharmacists.
“In primary care we do need to triage patients so that we can see those most in need so we’d ask that people think about some of the newer ways of getting advice like NHS 111 online or local pharmacies.”