The number of physical assaults against NHS staff has risen six per cent in the last year, according to new figures.
Data from NHS Protect shows there were 63,199 reported assaults in 2012-13 across England, up from 59,744 in 2011-12.
The number of criminal sanctions against people as a result of assaulting staff has risen by 201, from 1,257 to 1,458 – a 16 per cent increase.
Health minister Dan Poulter said: “Any physical or verbal abuse against NHS staff is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
“Legal powers are available to remove people not requiring treatment from hospital premises in cases of nuisance behaviour and to prosecute those who refuse to leave.
“It is outrageous that there have been so many physical assaults against NHS staff, but better awareness among health professionals will help them feel able to speak out and stop it happening.”
Regionally, Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust recorded one of the highest figures for assaults on staff employed at the trust which provides mental health services. But the vast majority of the total figure of 1,506 involved patients who were unwell at the time, with only 15 assaults carried out by people not considered to be ill.
Sheffield Children’s Hospital had one of the highest assault rates of those recorded for hospitals nationally at 78 per 1,000 staff. But that figure was skewed by the hospital also providing mental health services and all of the 223 assaults on staff during the year were carried out by patients who were unwell at the time.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: “It is absolutely unacceptable that every day more than 173 NHS workers are physically assaulted and that only one in 40 cases results in a criminal sanction. Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg as violence on NHS premises remains an under-reported problem.
“No-one should feel threatened at work. Our members work day in day out, providing life-saving care despite the stresses caused by the Government’s attacks on the health service.
“We’re pleased that more people are being prosecuted for assaulting staff but much more still needs to be done to ensure the NHS provides a safe working environment.
“The cuts and resultant pressure on services are causing growing patient frustration, especially in hospitals, and have significantly impacted on staff’s ability to cope.”
A spokeswoman for Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said it “takes every single assault against staff very seriously and we ensure that our staff are trained in how to report these types of incidents and the appropriate action to take”.
She added: “As a provider of specialist mental health and learning disability services, unfortunately, with the nature of problems people present with, a small proportion of cases can result in challenging behaviour and assaults being reported.
“Thankfully, only five incidents have resulted in staff being absent from work for three days or more, which we have reported to the Health & Safety Executive as required.”
John Reid, director of nursing and clinical operations at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “All of the incidents in today’s report were linked to medical factors, involving patients being treated as part of the trust’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.
“Today’s figures reflect that our specialist unit is one of the largest units of its kind in the country. When compared with other mental health units, the incidents of assaults upon staff are amongst the lowest nationally.
“In the tables we have, however, been grouped with other units that do not have psychiatric responsibilities.”