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‘It’s not OK’: healthcare staff stand together against unacceptable behaviour

Last updated: 10/03/2021

Local health and care organisations are joining together to say ‘It’s not OK’ to be violent, aggressive or abusive towards their staff, in a new campaign launching today (10 March).

The ‘It’s not OK’ campaign aims to highlight the impact of unacceptable behaviour which some healthcare staff experience while at work, by sharing their stories and urging the public to respect healthcare staff and remember that they’re people too.

Whilst the majority of patients and visitors to healthcare settings are respectful and appreciative, there has been a worrying rise in abusive behaviour during the pandemic.

Healthcare staff know and appreciate that there will be occasions where patients, due to the nature of their condition or through cognitive impairment, may become confused or stressed in unfamiliar environments, which can lead to challenging behaviour. Staff are offered de-escalation training to help deal with these kinds of instances in an appropriate manner.

However, there are many violent, aggressive and abusive incidents which do not involve such patients and can have a lasting impact on NHS staff who deserve to be able to feel safe when they come to work.

Francesca Grover, a coordinator for the appointment centre at UHBW, has experienced verbal abuse a number of times when trying to help people:

“I’ve had people tell me that I can’t do my job, ask me what I get paid for and continuingly swear at me. This can be extremely deflating and it can be really hard to pick yourself back up.

“When you speak to people over the phone, it takes away the face-to-face aspect and some people can be more abusive because they don’t have the risk of seeing the other person upset.

“I would ask people to please remember that there is a human at the end of the phone, and we are just here to help you as best we can.”

Ros Green, a senior urgent care practitioner for Sirona care & health, has experienced verbal abuse from members of the public at Bristol’s Urgent Treatment Centre:

“I’m at work to look after people, I’m not at work for people to take their aggression out on me. It’s just a horrible experience that leaves you feeling in a really horrible situation and then you have to pick yourself up and move on to see the next person and still have a smile on your face and so that’s just really difficult sometimes.” 

Anna Bell, Emergency Department Matron at Southmead Hospital said:

“I’ve been an ED (Emergency Department) nurse at North Bristol Trust for 13 years. Challenging behaviours are nothing new; we look after people when they’re at their most vulnerable, and in an unfamiliar environment, so we understand that people behave differently when they’re under stress. We’re trained to diffuse situations and make people feel safe. 

“Sadly, our staff are more exposed than ever to unnecessary and escalating levels of violence and aggression from the general public.  People’s worry about COVID and not being able to have relatives with them can really add to their stress levels, but we urge people to let our staff do their job. They’re trying their best to look after you under difficult circumstances, so please treat them with the respect they deserve.” 

Simon Bradley, GP in South Gloucestershire said:

“All GP surgeries are working hard to provide our usual patient care, as well as helping with COVID-related illness and vaccinating tens of thousands of people.

“Most people are really supportive, but a few are abusive and shout and insult my team, both face-to face and on the phone. This really hurts and is immensely damaging to morale.

“I know people are stressed but our team have suffered losses and illness too so please try to be understanding. It will help us to help you.”

There are a number of measures in place to support healthcare staff when experiencing violent or aggressive behaviour, ranging from warning letters and acceptable behaviour contracts through to patients being excluded from the premises and, in some circumstances, involving the police.

NHS staff should be able to carry out their work free from the threat of aggressive or abusive behaviour. Please respect our staff and remember that they are people to.