Assault on NHS staff will not be tolerated, Matt Hancock says

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says ministers will not tolerate physical or verbal assaults on NHS staff as data shows 28% have been abused

  • A survey of 569,000 employees found many are experiencing abuse from public 
  • 15% have experienced physical assault, rising to 34% among ambulance staff
  • Black and minority ethnic workers are 14% more likely to experience violence
  • A new agreement has been approved which will punish those who abuse staff 

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock says physical or verbal assaults on NHS staff will not be tolerated as data shows 28 per cent have been abused.

Addressing the workforce, Mr Hancock told staff ‘it is not part of your job’ to put up with abuse in any form.

A survey of 569,000 employees in 2019 found that more than one in four had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse while working in the past year.

A further 15 per cent have experienced physical assault, which rises to 34 per cent among ambulance staff.

Black and minority ethnic workers are 14 per cent more likely to experience violence, as figures show racism is the most common form of discrimination.

A new agreement has been approved which will punish members of the public who act violently towards frontline NHS staff. 

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock says physical or verbal assaults on NHS staff will not be tolerated as data shows 28 per cent have been abused

A letter from Mr Hancock which will be shared with all NHS staff says: ‘There is far too much violence against NHS staff, and too much acceptance that it’s part of the job. 

‘Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out. I’ve seen it for myself in A&Es, on night shifts, and on ambulances. 

‘I am horrified that any member of the public would abuse or physically assault a member of our NHS staff but it happens too often.

‘All colleagues in the NHS deserve to work in a safe, caring and compassionate environment. 


Staff in the NHS Staff Survey in 2019 reported the quality of care in the NHS has improved over the last year, with more than seven in 10 saying they would recommend their organisation to their family and friends for treatment, a proportion that has increased every year for the past five years.

Over four fifths of staff said they were happy with the quality of care they give to patients, and the proportion of staff saying they were able to deliver the care they aspire to was at its highest recorded level.

Staff this year are more likely to report that their manager encourages them at work, strains on working relationships have reduced, and staff are less likely to want to leave their organisation compared to 2018.

For the fifth year running, the percentage of staff reporting that their managers take a positive interest in their health and wellbeing rose, growing from 66 per cent in 2015 to 70 per cent  last year.

However, other findings from the 2019 poll showed that 40 per cent of staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the previous 12 months, up from 39.8 per cent the year before and 36.8 per cent in 2016. 

Some 22.9 per cent also said they had unrealistic time pressures, up from 20 per cent the year before.

Meanwhile, there has been a drop in the proportion of staff working extra unpaid hours in the past five years, although 55.9 per cent still do so every week.

‘You deserve a working environment that supports your physical and mental health, and helps you be the very best you can be.’

His letter highlighted the findings of the most recent NHS Staff Survey, which interviewed 569,000 NHS England employees across 300 separate organisations.

Staff said they are now happier and more likely to recommend their organisation as a place to work than last year.

But too many still experience abuse from the public, patients or their relatives.

More than one in four (28.5 per cent) said they had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse, and almost one in seven (14.9 per cent) experienced physical violence.

Almost 40,000 of those who responded (7.2 per cent) said they faced discrimination from patients over the last year – up from 5.8 per cent in 2015. 

Racism was the most common form of discrimination, but 2019 also saw the highest levels of reported sexism and intolerance pf religion and sexuality. 

Mr Hancock said: ‘It is appalling that this happens at all. Even more so that it happens disproportionately to black and minority ethnic staff.

‘We will not tolerate assaults – physical or verbal – against NHS colleagues – staff or volunteers. You should not tolerate violence or abuse either. Being assaulted or abused is not part of your job.’

Mr Hancock has urged staff to report every act of abuse or violence no matter how minor, as figures show half of staff did not record the last time they were involved in an incident. 

As well as this, a new agreement between the police, the NHS and the Crown Prosecution Service is making it easier to prosecute assaults or hate crimes against staff. 

As a result of landmark legislation introduced in 2018, jail terms for these offences have also been doubled, too.  

The Agreement recognises abuse to staff is sometimes committed by those in crisis or with neurological conditions. These cases will be handled appropriately.

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