With strong evidence that violence against NHS staff is rising, a panel of experts met in May to discuss how to tackle workplace violence

In 1999, the government instituted a zero tolerance campaign on violence in the NHS. Yet research by HSJ and Unison suggests workplace aggression is actually on the up, with many of those working in the healthcare system facing aggression from the very people they are trying to help.


At a roundtable event in May, a small panel of experts drawn from across the health service discussed just why this might be, and what could be done to address the problem. The resulting discussion saw multiple explanations proffered for what HSJ senior correspondent and event chair Shaun Lintern characterised as “the epidemic of violence” in the NHS.

Some panellists pointed to an evolution in patient need, with the growth in dementia leading to a related growth in violence. Others spoke of a desensitisation to the problem, which began with those working within the NHS – who increasingly see violence as simply part of the job – and stretched right to the Crown Prosecution Service and judiciary. And many spoke of a societal uptick in aggression, which extends far beyond the boundaries of the health and care system. 

By the end of the debate, there was no doubt that further action was needed – and on a multitude of fronts.