WITH nearly 240 doctors and nurses assaulted by patients in the last year alone, the Great Western Hospital is clamping down on violence against staff with a new campaign reminding people that any form of verbal or physical abuse will not be tolerated.

Starting today, the Respect Us initiative reinforces the message that abusive patients face tough penalties including police prosecution and the refusal of treatment.

The campaign also aims to encourage more staff to report verbal or physical abuse, including rude, intimidating or antisocial behaviour. Although 232 staff reported being assaulted between April 2013 and March this year, the real figure is thought to be much greater.

Half of staff who took part in the most recent NHS Staff Survey said they did not report the last time they experienced abuse at work.

The survey also revealed that in the last year a third of people who responded had experienced abuse at work from patients, relatives or other members of the public.

Receptionist Maureen Bristow has been on the receiving end of frustrated, aggressive and at times violent patients, more times than she cares to remember.

“As people come to the hospital we are their first point of call and we are also the last people they see on the way out,” she said. “If anything has gone wrong they will take out their aggression on us. We are an easy target.

“People have banged on the desk and I had somebody come out of A&E about 18 months ago come up from behind me and push everything off my desk. It was scary. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“It happens so regularly you think it’s part of the job. But it’s not. When people come to the hospital they should treat staff with respect because they expect respect. Respect is a two-way street.”

Dr Stephen Haig, Emergency Department consultant at GWH, has been targetted by patients in the past. Not only has he been swung at and pinned to a wall but he has even had an instrument trolley thrown at him by patients.

“When something like that happens, it just makes you and the rest of the team feel really awful,” he said. “It makes this job so much more difficult than it already is. Our staff come to expect that they will be assaulted at some point, which is fundamentally wrong.

“As doctors and nurses, we are here to help people who are sick and injured and it’s completely unacceptable when the very people we are trying to help are rude, aggressive or violent.

Employees at the GWH have the support of an in-house security team on hand 24/7 and teams working in the community can call 999 if they need support.

Roger Ringham, security management specialist for the trust, said: “This campaign is all about protecting our NHS staff. Apart from the immediate impact on the member of staff, the experience or threat of aggression or violence causes stress and sickness absence and lowers morale.”