'Violated and emotional' - what it feels like to experience abuse in healthcare

Nobody should have to worry that they’ll experience abuse, aggression or intimidation at work – especially if you’re trying to help. Unfortunately, this is the case for many people working in healthcare, who often have to deal with abuse and discrimination while trying to help patients.

Maria Revenisou, a healthcare assistant in the emergency department, shared her experience of abuse at work and why the No Excuse For Abuse campaign is so important to help protect her and her colleagues.

“I experienced verbal abuse while I was fairly new to the Trust – about two or three months after my induction. The moment it takes place, you feel angry, violated and emotional.”

NEFA Step back and calm down

Maria has luckily never been physically attacked, but says abuse in any form can have an effect: “You feel unsafe the whole time, even when the person isn’t there anymore. It took me some time to return back to my normal self.

“In my experience, I have to say that patient’s relatives can cause most of the problems! I remember one was very angry and kept swearing at me.

“I had people telling me to brush things off, and that the abuse was not against me personally. At the end of the day, if you look back at things with a clearer head, you do understand more. Of course, it depends on the person – I will not react the same way as others. Sometimes I choose not to react because English is not my first language, and I worry that I could accidentally make things worse.”

Giving advice to colleagues for how to pick themselves up after an incident, Maria said: “I can only say to take a step back from whatever happened and take the time to calm down.”

She also shared a time when she was approached by a patient and felt threatened. “I saw her taking photos of staff without asking, so I asked her to stop as it was a confidentiality issue. She started making rude gestures at me and was very aggressive. When she was discharged from the ward, she even tried to take down my name.”

As well as working with local police forces, University Hospital Southampton have a number of support services at our Trust to help staff feel confident in coming forward with their concerns and report experiences when they happen.

Christine Mbabazi, Freedom To Speak Up Guardian at UHS, added: “We are still seeing and hearing reports of staff being subjected to abusive behaviour. Our message is clear: this will not be tolerated. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with all our colleagues and pursue prosecutions wherever possible.”

NEFA posters

“No Excuse For Abuse is an important project,” added Maria. “We are not the enemy! We’re normal people and we’re on the patient’s side to fight the real ‘enemy’ - to help them get better.”

“If this message was understood by everyone, everything would be better.”

Find out more about our No Excuse for Abuse campaign here