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Tackling violence and aggression against nursing staff

Maureen Dolan 7 Apr 2022

Violence and aggression against nursing staff is a problem that existed before the pandemic. However, reports from RCN members confirm that these concerns have grown over the last two years. 

According to the RCN Employment Survey 2021, almost one-third (30.1%) of RCN members in Northern Ireland experienced physical abuse from patients or relatives during the previous 12 months, whilst almost two-thirds (66.7%) experienced verbal abuse. Nurses have reported being bitten, spat at, hit, scratched, kicked, abused on social media and sexually assaulted. These figures are shocking but are also likely to be the tip of the iceberg, with many more incidents not being recorded.

Health and social care employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment where nurses feel that incidents will be dealt with quickly and robustly – and that those who have been attacked will be fully supported by their employer. However, evidence from RCN members indicates that this duty of care is not always being fully discharged.

The RCN has been engaged in regional partnership work to revise policies on the zero tolerance of violence and aggression towards HSC staff by patients and visitors. The recommendations from this group must now be implemented as a matter of priority by the Department of Health. The Department also needs urgently to develop a withdrawal of care (or exclusion from care) policy that will allow an individual member of staff to remove themselves from a practice setting when under the threat of violence or assault by a patient or visitor. This is designed not only to safeguard the member of staff but also to ensure that the therapeutic needs of patients are appropriately addressed.

The RCN manifesto for the 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly election calls for: “An absolute determination to take strong measures in order to help prevent violence and aggression towards nursing staff, to deal with offenders, and recognise the right to withdraw care in the most extreme circumstances”. If we are unable to protect our nursing staff, we are failing in our respective responsibilities, and this will have devastating consequences for a system already operating under unbearable pressure.


Maureen Dolan

Maureen Dolan

Vice Chair, RCN Northern ireland Board

Page last updated - 07/04/2022