Nurse: ‘I’ve been hit, head-butted and taken hostage’

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Shelley Pearce could tell immediately that the patient she had been asked to care for didn’t like her.

The woman had been admitted to hospital as part of a detox programme.

“She wanted to leave and when I said no, she smashed a piece of plastic and put the sharp piece to my neck. It was terrifying.”

The patient marched Shelley to the lifts. It was only because she was able to press the alarm button in the lift that she was able to alert security.

The situation was defused, but it could have been so different.

“There are some horrendous stories and assaults that staff have had to endure,” says Shelley, who now works as an A&E nurse at a hospital in the south of England.

This was not the only time she has experienced a physical assault.

She says there have been particularly bad occasions, including being head-butted by a drug abuser, that made her question her future.

‘Not in a nightclub’

“I have thought about giving up nursing, but it is a job I love. I just don’t think we should live in fear and under the threat of assault.

“It happens on a daily basis. Sometimes it is just aggression, but it is the sort of thing that would never be tolerated in a nightclub.

“The police would be called and the person would be ejected.”

The situation has got so bad – more than 70,000 NHS staff are assaulted every year – that the nursing profession has even started to consider asking staff to wear body cameras, as police and fire crews do.

The issue was debated at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference in Belfast this week.

Stabbed, stalked, gouged

It was proposed by Sarah Seeley, a nurse from Ipswich. She says some places have started trialling it and it has led to a reduction in assaults.

“We need a robust deterrent. Nurses have been stabbed, stalked and even had their eyes gouged.

“Wearing body cameras might make people feel safer and de-escalate situations. Of course, there is a cost, but it is worth considering.”

Would that have helped Shelley? She’s not convinced.

“I can’t see it working and the risk is that it will destroy the patient relationship,” she said.

“We just need proper support so we can raise the alarm and get help from security when we are concerned and good training in how to defuse these situations.

“We have mental health patients coming into hospital in crisis, we have drunk patients and those with head injuries – and some people are just not very nice.

“Nurses need protecting.”

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