Give nurses body cameras to prevent assaults, NHS staff plead

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Nurses should be given body cameras to prevent assaults by violent patients, a conference heard.

Increasing levels of violence in A&E and on hospital wards meant staff needed better protection, nurses told the Royal College of Nursing Congress on Monday.

They revealed how they had been attacked and even held hostage by patients who turned violent.  But some nurses condemned the suggestion, saying cameras would erode patient trust and invade their privacy.

Proposing the introduction of cameras, nurse Sarah Seeley, from Ipswich, said: “[Nurses are] being strangled, stabbed, headbutted, punched, kicked, spat at, slapped, bitten and even having their eyes gouged.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

  • An ageing population. There are one million more people over the age of 65 than five years ago. This has caused a surge in demand for medical care
  • Cuts to budgets for social care. While the NHS budget has been protected, social services for home helps and other care have fallen by 11 per cent in five years. This has caused record levels of “bedblocking”; people with no medical need to be in hospital are stuck there because they can’t be supported at home
  • Staff shortages. While hospital doctor and nurse numbers have risen over the last decade, they have not kept pace with the rise in demand. Meanwhile 2016 saw record numbers of GP practices close, displacing patients on to A&E departments as they seek medical advice
  • Lifestyle factors. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, a poor diet with not enough fruit and vegetables and not doing enough exercise are all major reasons for becoming unwell and needing to rely on our health services. Growing numbers of overweight children show this problem is currently set to continue.
She added: “The costs of the cameras would be offset by the reduction in complaints, incidents and restraints.

“The police, fire and security services are now wearing body worn cameras with positive evidence highlighting their use as a deterrent providing evidence to reduce violent situations and prosecutions.”

Monsuru Odekunle, who works in a high-secure hospital, said: “I wear a bodyworn camera every day. [It] has improved safety of both staff and patients.”

We encounter aggression every day. We need better systems of raising the alarm and protecting our safetyShelley Pearce, A&E nurse

He said complaints had dropped and staff felt “more confident” doing their jobs since the introduction of the cameras.

Shelley Pearce, who works as an A&E nurse at a hospital in Portsmouth, told how she was “taken hostage” by an alcoholic patient on an acute ward, who held a piece of broken plastic against her throat and dragged her into a lift.

She has also been subjected to five serious assaults and dozens of minor ones, including being kicked, punched, spat at and head-butted. But despite her experiences, she spoke out against the introduction of body cameras, saying they would compromise patient trust without deterring violence.

She called for better training to diffuse situations and more security support instead, adding: “We encounter aggression every day. We need better systems of raising the alarm and protecting our safety. There are security [staff] in hospitals but only if you can get away to summon them.”

Figures published last month showed there were 56,435 physical assaults on NHS staff in 2016/17, up 9.7 per cent from 51,447 the year before.

The biggest increase in attacks was in acute hospital trusts, up 21 per cent from 15,469 to 18,720. The numbers related to 181 out of 244 NHS trusts which responded to Freedom of Information requests by the Health Service Journal, meaning the true figure could be much higher.

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