Objectives: To determine the attitudes and experiences of nursing staff in relation to violent and aggressive patients.
Method: A self-administered questionnaire booklet was distributed to 289 nursing staff working in ‘high-risk’ units within two NHS Trusts. In addition to assessing the frequency of violent incidents, the degree of burnout and post-traumatic symptoms experienced were assessed by the inclusion of two standardised measures in the survey, viz, the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Impact of Event Scale-Revised respectively.
Results: One hundred and fifty six (54%) nurses responded to this survey. Over two-thirds of nurses (72%) had been physically assaulted during the previous two years. The longterm psychological impact of these incidents was not related to whether or not a physical injury was sustained. A positive correlation between burnout and exposure to verbal abuse, threatened assault and violence was demonstrated.
Conclusions: Nurses in these Trusts are exposed to an unacceptable level of violence or aggression from patients, potential implications of which include post-traumatic reactions and burnout. However, nurses are reluctant to report incidents of verbal abuse or threats formally, and they rely upon the support of their colleagues following ‘distressing’ incidents. To protect the wellbeing of their staff, hospital management needs to consider preventative measures, such as training and personal alarms, and improved reporting systems to ensure all incidents are accurately recorded.