NHS staff have been sexually assaulted, slapped and spat at while on duty caring for patients in Southampton.

Hundreds of staff at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) reported being assaulted by patients in the hospital last year alone.

Now staff have come forward to tell their stories, with one person telling the Daily Echo she was sexually assaulted.

Data obtained by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that 290 members of staff were assaulted by a patient between January and November 2022.

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One emergency department worker, who did not want to be identified, said that being spat at and slapped was "regular" in her line of work. 

"In the emergency department, abuse is really bad," she said. 

"I have been spat at, slapped, punched by patients. 

"It's so bad we now have 24-hour security there at all times. 

"[The trust] is really good and we do get help with reporting incidents and they have put security in place for us.

"It's very frustrating for us, you never know what's going to happen to you that day. 

"People shouldn't come to work worried about being abused, it puts people off the job."

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Another woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said she has been physically assaulted and sexually assaulted by patients on two separate occasions. 

She said: "I have been punched at work before and I was sexually assaulted before.

"On top of these 12-hour shifts, you have this constant thought in the back of your head worrying about if this patient is going to attack you or not."

Of the 290 reported incidents last year, six were recorded as near misses, 47 were categorised as negligible, 191 were minor and 46 were moderate. 

No severe incidents were recorded and the police were involved 10 times. 

It comes after the Echo revealed how paediatric nurse Hannah Taylor, 35, was spat at on the picket line on Monday while striking.

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The data obtained by the Echo shows that staff were abused more during the pandemic compared to other years. 

In 2019, the trust recorded 344 cases of assault, in 2020 there were 365 recorded assaults on staff, and in 2021 there were  318 attacks. 

"People thought it was funny to spit at us," the ED staff member told the Echo. 

"We had tents set up outside and people would get frustrated. They would spit at us and laugh about it."

In 2021, there was one case of severe assault, followed by 14 moderate cases, 237 minor cases, 57 negligible cases, and nine near misses.

The police were involved in five cases in 2021, six cases in 2020, and 11 cases in 2019.

The hospital trust has now brought in 24-hour security and is piloting the use of body-worn video cameras in the emergency department. 

These cameras aim to help deter offenders and capture evidence, if needed, for prosecution.

Sarah Herbert is the deputy chief nursing officer at University Hospital Southampton.

Daily Echo: Sarah Herbert, deputy chief nursing officer at University Hospital SouthamptonSarah Herbert, deputy chief nursing officer at University Hospital Southampton (Image: UHS)

She said the trust is taking a "robust approach" to tackle violence against staff, adding that abuse will not be tolerated.

"Workplace violence and abuse of our staff in any form is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," she said.

“UHS takes a robust approach in tackling this problem.

"Working in partnership with Hampshire Constabulary, there is a commitment to pursue those responsible through the criminal courts.

“Through our No Excuse For Abuse campaign, we have introduced a dedicated online hub to make it easier for staff to not only report incidents but to receive any help and support they might need.

“We have introduced measures to deal with offenders, using behaviour contracts where appropriate.

“The Trust also has an exclusion policy for both patients and visitors which we are continuing to develop in areas such as the Emergency Department, where our staff are unfortunately experiencing some of the highest levels of violence and aggression.

“We are keen to work with our local community in helping would-be offenders to understand the consequences of violence and aggression against our staff, in the hope of reducing the number of incidents we are currently seeing.”

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