Hard-working NHS staff who deliver care to people with mental health and substance abuse problems in Sheffield have been attacked thousands of times in the last five years, The Star can reveal today.
Dedicated workers at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust - which helps people with drug and alcohol problems along with those who suffer from mental health problems – have been attacked more than 5000 times since since 2013, an average of about three incidents a day.
The trust has introduced a raft of safety measures including staff wearing bodycams, plus the siting of metal detectors, security staff and CCTV at some of their units.
One worker who has been subjected to violence in the past claimed the situation has gotten so bad that some staff are now scared to go into work. Union bosses are also calling for more action to protect staff.
The Sheffield mental health worker, who did not want to be identified, said: “It is the worst now that it has been for the last 10 years.
“Staff numbers are low and we feel there’s a lack of funding generally from the Government.
“Some of the incidents are serious assaults, which end up for example with members of staff being knocked unconscious.
“It has gotten to the point where I am frightened to go to work.”
The figures, revealed using the Freedom of Information Act, show there has been 5621 reported assaults between April 2013 and March 2018.
The number of attacks have remained at a fairly consistent level of just over 1000 in each of the last five financial years.
We can also reveal which sites had the highest number of reported assaults.
The Longley Centre, which includes a psychiatric intensive care unit that cares for some of the trust's most 'acutely unwell' service users, came out on top with 1323 incidents in the last five years.
Second on the list was Firshill Rise with 860 incident and then the Michael Carlisle Centre with 826.
Unions which represent workers called on health chiefs to increase funding and staffing levels to support the workforce.
Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing in Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “There is no doubt that improved staffing levels and properly funded services would help to mitigate the risk that patients become violent or aggressive.
“Cuts to community and mental health services have a knock-on effect that is rarely considered when it comes to short-term cost-cutting.”
Unite regional officer Pat Pepper added: “NHS workers work tirelessly in increasingly stretched circumstances to deliver first class patient care.
“Any assault either verbal or physical is unacceptable. It is an ongoing issue and important for staff to have the correct training and managers to have adequate staffing levels.
“Employers must ensure that proper safeguarding is put in place for staff and that a supportive approach is taken to workers who are assaulted.”
In a statement, the trust said the figures reflect a “strong incident reporting culture” and explained that a number of measures have been introduced aimed at reducing incidents and protecting staff.
This includes 'safety huddles' where staff are briefed about service users and their needs.
A pilot scheme for some staff to start wearing body cameras is being trialled and if successful could be rolled out to the workforce on all wards.
Metal detectors, CCTV and security staff have also been deployed to some units.
There are also posters displayed across wards outlining the trust's 'zero tolerance' approach to aggression, violence and harassment of staff.
Kevan Taylor, chief executive of Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The safety and security of our staff and service users is something that we take very seriously.
“Many of the people who are admitted to our inpatient services, like those based at the Longley Centre, are acutely unwell and in their distress can demonstrate challenging behaviour.
“Our staff are here to care for the people of Sheffield when they need us most. However, we also need to ensure our staff feel safe, and we will not tolerate physical violence or verbal abuse of any kind.”
In a statement, South Yorkshire Police said: “Attacks on NHS staff are completely unacceptable.
“The Assaults on Emergency Workers Act 2018 came into force on Tuesday, November 13, and covers NHS staff and staff of agencies engaged in NHS supportive work.
“Its intention is to recognise the unique position that emergency workers fulfill and afford them greater protection through increased penalties for offenders convicted of assaulting them whilst engaged in their emergency work.
“The police will use this legislation on anyone found to be attacking emergency workers who are simply there to do a job.”