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Nearly 14,000 assaults on NHS staff recorded in 15 months

The figures were condemned by the Scottish Conservatives (PA)
The figures were condemned by the Scottish Conservatives (PA)

NHS staff were assaulted by patients almost 14,000 times in a 15-month period, according to figures released by the Scottish Conservatives.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the health spokesman for the party and a practising GP, said data obtained through freedom of information requests is “shocking and shameful”.

He said “distracted” Health Secretary Michael Matheson must outline an urgent plan to give NHS boards the appropriate resources to protect staff from abuse.

A total of 13,792 assaults on NHS staff were recorded between April 2022 and July 2023, according to the data.

However, Dr Gulhane said the true scale will be higher as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde – Scotland’s largest health board – did not provide the figures.

NHS Grampian, which issued figures between April 2022 and August 11 2023, recorded more than a third of the total assaults – 5,180.

Scottish Conservative Party conference 2023
Sandesh Gulhane said Health Secretary Michael Matheson has been ‘distracted’ by the row over his iPad roaming charges (Andrew Milligan/PA)

That figure included 2,259 incidents involving “physical abuse, assault or violence” between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023.

Each health board provided their figures in different ways, with NHS Grampian emphasising many of the violent incidents “are generally due to an underlying clinical condition” resulting in the person having limited control of their behaviour.

The board said more than 70% of incidents involved someone “suffering from an impaired mental state” while 99% were “rated as negligible or minor impact”.

Reports of violence in the north-east of Scotland, the board added, had reduced by 7% in the past year.

NHS Lothian record 2,099 “adverse events”, including assault by patients and fellow staff members.

Dr Gulhane also raised concern at the lack of criminal changes brought against the perpetrators, with figures showing just 775 people were charged under the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act over the same period.

The legislation covers all emergency workers, including medical, fire and police staff, and makes it an offence to assault or impede the sector’s staff.

He said: “The number of assaults recorded against dedicated NHS workers in such a short period of time is shocking and shameful. My thoughts are with my colleagues who have been on the receiving end of these deplorable and sickening assaults.

“It’s intolerable for any NHS employee to be assaulted in the workplace, and there must be a zero-tolerance attitude towards this sort of behaviour.

“With NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde failing to provide figures, the true tally will be much higher.

“It is also deeply alarming that the SNP’s weak approach to justice means very few people are getting charges for these assaults.

“Many individuals clearly sense they can get away with assaulting NHS workers. That must change, which is why the Scottish Conservatives have promised to double the maximum jail sentence for those who assault emergency workers.

“These are the sort of issues that our discredited Health Secretary Michael Matheson needs to focus on, yet instead he’s distracted by the scandal over his iPad expenses claim and crucial messaging surrounding the winter period is being completely lost.

“Whether he does the right thing and resigns or clings on, the SNP must urgently outline a plan which will guarantee NHS boards across the country have the resources they need to protect their staff and reduce the number of assaults against them.”

A spokesman for NHS Grampian said: “We do not tolerate this type of behaviour being directed towards any of our staff and take these incidents extremely seriously.

“Unfortunately, on a minority of occasions they are subjected to abuse, aggression and even violence. Our staff work extremely hard for our patients and their families every day.

“Context is important to note the total number of assaults on staff in Grampian includes more than 3,520 incidents which involved patients suffering from an impaired mental state which may affect their behaviour or understanding of their actions.

“These unfortunate incidents accounted for more than 70% of assaults on staff in the time referenced. Staff working with these patients receive a high level of training in dealing with these situations the majority result in no harm to our staff.

“Of all incidents reported, almost 99% were rated as negligible or minor impact.”

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.