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Press release
Thursday 14 October 2021

UHS launches crackdown on patients who assault or abuse staff

Patients who abuse or assault staff are being warned they could be refused treatment and instead face prosecution in a crackdown launched by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS).

To mark Hate Crime Awareness Week, the Trust has partnered with Hampshire Constabulary under a scheme called Operation Cavell, designed to increase convictions and protect NHS staff on the frontline.

The initiative will see police officers collaborate with welfare and support staff within the NHS to help those who have been a victim of such crimes.

Since 2016 there have been 1,660 reports by staff who have suffered abuse or assault while at work. They include cases of physical, verbal, gender, homophobic and racial abuse. This year has seen the highest number of incidents reported in that five-year period, in just nine months.

Among the cases was an emergency department nurse who was violently assaulted by a male patient who hurled a chair at her back, knocking her to the ground.

The nurse was trying to usher an elderly patient to safety as the man became violent and aggressive, when she was hit from behind and floored. She had to crawl to safety on her hands and knees.


“Our message is simple – violence and aggression at any level is not an occupational hazard, it is a criminal offence

Now UHS is furthering its robust approach, with the launch of a new dedicated online hub for staff to report incidents, receive help and support and a commitment to pursue those responsible through the criminal courts.

Security officers are now also based within the Emergency Department, where unfortunately many of the incidents have occurred, to protect staff and patients 24 hours a day. They have the power to remove a patient, regardless of whether they are waiting for treatment, if their behaviour is unacceptable.

Steve Harris, chief people officer at University Hospital Southampton, said abuse in any form against staff would not be tolerated.

He said: “There is no excuse for any form of abuse or discrimination against a member of our workforce and these robust new measures are about reinforcing that.

“Our staff must be able to come to work feeling safe and protected – without fear of violence, injury or abuse - so they can provide the very best care for those in our community who need it most. Unfortunately, for far too long, some staff have accepted abuse or assault as part and parcel of the job and many cases go unreported. This has to end.

“Our message is simple – violence and aggression at any level is not an occupational hazard, it is a criminal offence. Working with Hampshire Police, we will be pursuing convictions while supporting our staff to deal with the personal impact of these incidents. Their protection, safety and welfare of our staff is our top priority.”

Between 2016 and 2017 staff reported 359 incidents in one year. In 2017-2018 there were 311 cases reported and during 2018-2019 a further 290 incidents were logged.

In 2019 to 2020 the numbers rose again with 344 recorded incidents of abuse or assault against UHS staff.

So far in 2021 there have been 360 incidents reported.

Mr Harris added: "Workplace violence and abuse in any form is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated. It is particularly concerning to see those numbers have risen at a time when our staff are continuing to deal with COVID while working incredibly hard to maintain services in the face of unprecedented emergency demand.

“We are pleased to be partnering with Hampshire Constabulary under Operation Cavell and are urging staff to report all incidents so those responsible can be dealt with appropriately.”

Detective Inspector Abbie Leeson said: “I’m pleased that University Hospitals Southampton is taking such a proactive approach towards Operation Cavell.

“We are working with NHS Trusts across Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight to ensure that robust processes are in place to encourage reporting and allow thorough investigation of these kinds of incidents.

“Emergency workers carry out vital roles in our communities to help the most vulnerable, they should not face abuse or assault while undertaking their jobs”.