Violence against NHS staff: letter to the workforce

Published 18 February 2020

To every member of our brilliant NHS team,

The NHS is built on your dedication to the health and care of others. I am delighted to have been reappointed as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Like you, my commitment to the health service and the fundamental principles that underpin it is deeply personal and I will be guided by this in everything I do.

In the coming months, I will be driving forward my 4 priorities for the NHS: people, infrastructure, technology and prevention.

These priorities are backed up by our manifesto commitments: 50,000 more nurses working in our NHS, 40 new hospitals improving care and treatment, 50 million new GP appointments available each year, and more.

Of these priorities, supporting the people in our NHS is my first priority, and the reason I wanted to write to you today.

I am very grateful for the work you do, and on behalf of the whole country, want to say thank you. All colleagues in the NHS deserve to work in a safe, caring and compassionate environment. You deserve a working environment that supports your physical and mental health, and helps you be the very best you can be.

The forthcoming People Plan will be built on this simple concept: that we get the best out of each other when we support each other, and when the system makes it easier, not harder, for you to achieve your potential.

There are so many things we need to do to make this a reality. I want to focus on just one: the problem of violence against our NHS staff.

There is far too much violence against NHS staff, and too much acceptance that it’s part of the job. Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out. I’ve seen it for myself in A&Es, on night shifts, and on ambulances.

I am horrified that any member of the public would abuse or physically assault a member of our NHS staff but it happens too often.

The 2019 NHS Staff Survey showed 15% of NHS staff experienced physical violence from members of the public and patients in the past year – this rises to 34% among ambulance trust staff.

It is appalling that this happens at all. Even more so that it happens disproportionately to black and minority ethnic staff. It is a tribute to you, your professionalism and your resilience that so often you persevere in providing the highest quality care, despite the small minority who are abusive towards you. I want you to know that the government and the public are firmly on your side.

We will not tolerate assaults, physical or verbal, against NHS colleagues ‒ staff or volunteers. You should not tolerate violence or abuse either. Being assaulted or abused is not part of your job.

Of course, those with clinical conditions and lack of capacity must be cared for, and supported appropriately. Yet there is no reason why anyone who has capacity, yet is violent to staff, deserves the wonderful care of the NHS. The NHS, and every colleague in it, deserves to be treated with respect.

To start to put this into action, the NHS has joined forces with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to approve a joint agreement on offences against emergency workers. This will ensure that those who act violently and with criminal intent towards NHS staff are swiftly brought to justice.

The joint agreement provides a framework to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of cases where staff are the victim of a crime and sets out the standards victims of these crimes can expect. All assault and hate crimes against NHS staff must be investigated with care, compassion, diligence and commitment. In the 2019 NHS Staff Survey, 49% of staff said that last time they had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse at work it was reported – I want to see this figure increase.

I ask that you please ensure that you report every incident and act of abuse or violence against you or a colleague. No act of violence or abuse is minor.

The agreement of course recognises these acts are sometimes committed by those in crisis or with neurological conditions. These cases will be handled appropriately, but prosecutions will be brought against patients or members of the public that meet the legal threshold.

It is essential that all leaders in the NHS at every level support their staff, including enabling them to access any training they need and use the full weight of the law, when necessary, to protect their workplace.

This is just part of the work we are doing to support all staff in the NHS. There is more to come.

Yours ever,

Matt Hancock