Health service managers are to be set targets for cutting levels of staff sickness and violence against staff. And they will be expected to deliver 'measurable improvements' in occupational health.

The NHS Executive's human resources strategy, due out later this year will 'move HR to the top of the NHS agenda' so that employees feel valued and protected, and can play a part in shaping the NHS locally.

The strategy's aim will be to make the NHS a better place to work, health minister Alan Milburn told a conference this week.

He said he would require trusts to review procedures to ensure that violent incidents against staff were immediately reported and properly recorded. And he said current levels of reported violence were 'just the tip of the iceberg'.

Trusts will be required to have 'clear working relationships' with the local police and prosecution services to pursue cases of violence against NHS staff.

'I want to see trusts prosecuting where appropriate. NHS staff deserve to know that they have the full force of the law behind them, ' Mr Milburn said.

The Department of Health intends to produce guidance on preventing and handling violence against community health staff to complement earlier guidance for hospitals.

The human resources strategy will require trusts to set targets for reducing violence against staff - 'targets which we expect to be delivered', Mr Milburn said.

The government welcomed the findings of a Nuffield Trust Partnership report earlier this year on the state of health of the NHS workforce.

The partnership found that stress, poor communication, violence or the threat of violence and illness were a major drain on NHS staff and resources. It proposed a 10-point action plan to address these concerns.

Mr Milburn said: 'The partnership that produced the report and action plan being discussed today must stay in place to make sure the challenge it posed is met.

'I am pleased to have had the opportunity today to underline the government's commitment to that challenge.'