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Staff Abuse Pandemic Plagues Already Stretched Healthcare Service

With the healthcare system already on its knees on the back of ongoing strike action and staff shortages, new research has revealed a staff abuse pandemic in the sector with one in three (31%) nurses and healthcare workers receiving more abuse in the past year than ever before.

A study of close to 500 nurses, health and social care workers, conducted by Florence, one of the UK’s fastest-growing healthcare technology companies, found that almost half (46%) of those surveyed have faced both physical and verbal abuse while at work. A third (35%) say levels of abuse have gotten considerably worse since the pandemic.

Two in five (42%) have experienced racist abuse, while 7% have been subject to sexist abuse in the workplace. Swearing (48%), negative comments (48%) and shouting (47%) are other common mistreatments.

Staffing crisis fuelling rise in abuse

Staff abuse in the workplace is commonplace. Nearly a third of those polled (29%) say they’ve received verbal, physical or online abuse at work at least once a week, with 7% suffering abuse as often as once a day. The majority of abuse, according to those surveyed, is coming from frustrated patients (64%) or patients’ friends and families (28%) whose own frustrations are boiling over.

Over half (55%) of workers believe lack of staff on shift is at the root of the problem. Other contributing factors include staff being overworked which has led to a reduced quality of care for patients (38%) and the increase in wait times (31%). The fallout from the cost-of-living crisis (17%) is also believed to have driven higher levels of staff abuse.

Staff abuse contributing to Mental Health pandemic in the sector

With the NHS and social care sector already stretched to full capacity, the emotional fallout from the abuse is having a detrimental impact on the workforce. Two in five (41%) workers are feeling demoralised, almost a quarter (23%) say that their mental wellbeing has been affected with higher levels of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem reported across the industry.

One in five (22%) want to leave their job, and the industry, as a result of the abuse they are facing, while over a tenth (13%) have moved jobs within the industry.

Fiona Millington, Chief Nurse at Florence, has long argued that vacancy rates are the major contributor to problems within the sector: “It’s an incredibly difficult time to be a nurse or carer at the moment, with levels of staff abuse on a steady increase since the pandemic. The government hailed nurses & healthcare workers during the pandemic but where is that support now?

The biggest challenge for the industry at the moment is, without a doubt, staffing. There are more nurses leaving the industry than joining, at a time when the demand for nurses is increasing. And the lack of staffing is contributing to higher levels of physical and verbal abuse for the remaining healthcare staff on the ground. Any sort of abuse should have no place in society and should be rigorously rooted out, but the reality is that nurses and carers are experiencing incredibly high levels, often daily, much of which stems from a lack of investment into the staffing model; and that is feeding patients’ frustration.

The situation is unsustainable and we need an urgent, long-term solution. We need to see increased pay, greater efforts to bring more people into healthcare and enhanced training and support as a start. We need to look after our frontline healthcare workers, not drive them out.”