Half of nurses in the U.S. are now battling against violence on wards, one of the largest nursing unions in the country said today.
In its bi-annual survey, National Nurses United found more than 48 per cent of nurses said they were facing a small or significant spike in violence at work.
This was more than double the 21 per cent that said there were more assaults in their hospitals in March last year.
Cases included patients spitting on nurses after being told they had tested positive for COVID-19, and scratching, hitting or even threatening healthcare workers with firearms.
Hospitals have been facing surging rates of patients attacking staff in recent months, fueled by Covid misinformation and staffing shortages.
Unions are calling for stronger protections for healthcare staff, warning the surge of attacks is leaving many ‘distracted’ and unable to do their jobs.
Half of nurses in the US now say they are experiencing violence on wards, double the number from a year ago, according to a survey from National Nurses United
The NNU survey involved more than 2,500 nurses from every state in America, and was carried out through February and March.
The union performs the survey once every six months, with a new report published each April and October.
It defined violence against healthcare workers as physical assaults such as hitting, kicking, scratching and spitting.
It also included verbal threats of physical violence that ’cause an employee to fear for their physical safety’.
Cases where patients threaten nurses with guns or other objects — such as hospital chairs — that can be used as weapons were also included.
Violence against nurses has ‘markedly increased’ with no sign it is ‘receding’, association says
Violence on hospital wards has ‘markedly increased’ since the start of the pandemic with ‘no sign’ of it receding, a hospitals association has warned.
The American Hospitals Association — which represents more than 2million healthcare workers nationwide — said last month more than 44 per cent of nurses were now experiencing physical violence.
It added that more than six in ten were now reporting verbal abuse in the workplace.
Cases included a nurse being thrown against a wall and bitten by a patient in South Dakota, and a Thai medical student being kicked and dragged to the ground in New York.
President Richard Pollack warned: ‘Nurses and doctors cannot provide attentive care when they are afraid for their personal safety, distracted by disruptive patients and family members, or traumatized from prior violent interactions.
‘In addition, violent interactions at health care facilities tie up valuable resources and can delay urgently needed care for other patients.
‘Studies show that workplace violence reduces patient satisfaction and employee productivity, and increases the potential for adverse medical events.’
The association is calling on the Department of Justice to bring in more legislation to protect healthcare workers.
‘While workplace violence can come from any person present in the workplace, the vast majority that nurses and healthcare workers experience comes from patients,’ the report’s authors wrote.
‘It is most frequently related to their disease/illness or a treatment or medication they are receiving.
‘Regardless of intent, the impact on nurses and healthcare workers is the same, and employers have a duty to identify and remedy occupational hazards.’
Doctors and nurses have been warning of rising violence in hospitals for months.
It is a far cry from the early days of the pandemic, when healthcare workers were heralded as heroes.
Cases reported on hospital systems include a nurse being grabbed by her wrist and repeatedly kicked in the ribs at a hospital in Georgia.
In another incident, a nurse was left screaming in fear after a patient pinned her against a door and pressed her head into it.
Several hospitals — including one in Missouri — have now brought in panic buttons for staff to enable them to call security immediately if they are threatened by patients.
Dr Shoshana Ungerleider, a physician at Crossover Hospital in San Francisco, wrote in USA today that Covid misinformation was triggering the rise in violence.
‘Part of the reason is that Covid-related misinformation has created an environment of fear and distrust within our healthcare systems,’ she said.
‘But Covid has only exacerbated an existing problem. Even before the pandemic, healthcare workers were already much more likely to experience assault than workers in any other industry.
‘There are a number of factors that can put healthcare workers at higher risk — including insufficient staffing levels to patients in distress.’
The NNU survey also found more than seven in ten nurses said their job was now slightly or much worse than before the pandemic.
For comparison, just under half said their job was worse than before Covid six-months ago.
More than 80 percent of respondents also said their job was more stressful than before the pandemic, compared to just 30 percent in September.
And six in ten nurses warned their hospital was now relying on excessive over time to keep wards fully staffed. Seven in ten reported a rise in the number of travel nurses being used.
‘We are now more than three years into the pandemic and not only is staffing worse, but workplace violence is increasing,’ Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, president of the NNU, said.
‘Nurses are experiencing alarming levels of moral distress and moral injury due to the unsafe working conditions.
‘Since our last survey in September 2021, even more nurses have reported feeling more stress and anxiety as well as feeling traumatized by their experiences caring for patients.’