Beyond the Payouts: The True Cost of Violence Against NHS Staff

Workplace violence incidents in the NHS are unfortunately on the rise. In the 2023 NHS Staff Survey, 13.7% of NHS staff self-reported that they have experienced at least one incident of physical violence from patients, service users, relatives or other members of the public in the last 12 months, while a further 25.15% experienced at least one incident of harassment, bullying or abuse in the last 12 months.  

And this week we have learned how much these incidents are costing NHS trusts. A Freedom of Information request to NHS Resolution from Legal Expert uncovered that trusts all over the country are paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages for assault claims, with two trusts paying damages of over £1 million. 

Essex Partnership University Trust has settled 15 NHS staff assault claims since 2019, totalling £486,117, while Sussex Partnership has settled 10 claims coming to a staggering £1,180,394. In total, 108 trusts have paid £4,716,991 in damages since 2019.

“The true cost of these assault claims is much higher as we consider the impact on staff’s mental health and wellbeing. Steps need to be taken to allow NHS staff to come to work without fear to protect their mental health,” said Alex Jay, Chief Executive Officer at Little Green Button. 

“In an already overstretched health service, the last thing trusts need to be spending money on is assault damages or replacing staff who leave because of such incidents.”

Workplace violence incidents impact long-term staff wellbeing

We know that workplace violence incidents at work impact the mental health of staff. Our research published in 2021 found that 65% of staff had increased anxiety after being abused by the public at work, while 52% said the incident(s) affected their mental health. 

Furthermore, these abuse incidents are likely to contribute to long-term sickness absences. In 2022, there were 6 million reported sick days for mental health and wellbeing reasons, accounting for 23% of all sick days. This is equivalent to 17,135 full-time staff, so the NHS should be doing more to prevent workplace violence to reduce these sick days.

The true cost of NHS workplace violence incidents is much higher

While the cost of damages payouts is astonishing, the unsettling fact is that the true cost of NHS workplace violence incidents is much higher.

All employers have a duty of care to their staff to keep them safe. We know that reducing workplace violence incidents in the NHS is a complex issue, but employers have a moral as well as legal duty to ensure that they are doing everything they can to protect staff.

The cost to staff’s mental health is not something that can be ignored. Abuse from members of the public can have a lasting impact, affecting the person’s ability to have a normal life as well as to do their job. 

In addition, our research found that 50% of workers who had faced abuse from the public found a different job. With the cost to replace a fully-trained nurse standing at £12,000 and a typical turnover rate of 10-12% at a large acute trust, retention is key to keeping costs down. 

One of the actions NHS trusts can take to improve retention and reduce staff turnover is to ensure that they are doing everything they can to keep their workers safe from workplace violence.

How can NHS trusts keep their staff safe?

Be proactive

Don’t wait for a violent incident to occur before taking workplace violence prevention seriously. Ensure you have robust policies and procedures in place to safeguard against unexpected violence. Download our guide on how to go from reactive to proactive in 5 steps to learn more about the steps you can take to reduce workplace violence:

  1. Identify hazards
  2. Review existing policy
  3. Investigate technology
  4. Educate your team
  5. Practise, train and review 

Draw up a workplace violence prevention plan

Common in the US, workplace violence prevention plans (WVPPs) encompass everything an organisation is doing to prevent staff abuse. The NHS has its own procedures to ensure that everything usually included in a WVPP is carried out, but it can be useful for staff to have access to a WVPP to see all policies and procedures in one place.

Workplace violence prevention plans typically include:

  • Risk assessments
  • Policies
  • Training and awareness programmes
  • Incident reporting and investigation procedures
  • Support available for affected employees
  • Workplace design and security measures
  • Review dates

Download our checklist to help you create your own workplace violence prevention plan.

Implement safeguarding tools 

Using technology to improve workplace safety is a key way to show your commitment to preventing workplace violence. Panic buttons are widely regarded as a way to not only minimise the number of violent incidents but also reduce their severity. 

With Little Green Button, you can use a mixture of desktop software, physical panic buttons and mobile devices to give staff the ability to call for help wherever they are.

A discreet click, press or tap of the button alerts everyone on the network that a staff member needs assistance at their location. If staff members can raise the alert before a situation escalates, a quick reaction from security teams or colleagues could result in a situation ending in a far less serious manner without any staff being assaulted.

Implementing software like Little Green Button shows that an NHS trust is taking responsibility for preventing workplace violence. The presence of Little Green Button on a desktop screen, or a Big Green Button plugged into a computer is a reminder to staff that help is just a few moments away should they need it.

The true cost of these assault claims is much higher as we consider the impact on staff’s mental health and wellbeing. Steps need to be taken to allow NHS staff to come to work without fear to protect their mental health.

In an already overstretched health service, the last thing trusts need to be spending money on is assault damages or replacing staff who leave because of such incidents.

Alex Jay

CEO, Little Green Button