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Violence in healthcare! How common is it?

October 3, 2011

Issue 19: October 2011 – Mariyam Nashrath (Director of Nursing)

Workplace violence (WPV) is of national and international concern and it is recognized as a major occupational hazard for many organizations and employees. WPV refers to incidents in which staff are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well being, or health (Wynne et al., 1997). This problem is especially pronounced within healthcare and nurses are at the front-line of these dangerous situations. The extent of violence within the health care sector has been widely researched, particularly over the past ten years. Research shows that most nurses have been exposed to aggressive or violent behaviour at some point in their career. O’Connell et al., (2000) reported that 95% of nurses in Australian hospitals had encountered verbal aggression several times. In a study conducted by Badger and Mullan (2004) in UK revealed that more than half of the nurses participated in the study had experienced an incident of violence or aggression in the 12 months prior to the study. Violence toward nurses can lead to physical injury, negative effects on personal lives, and debilitating emotional, social, physical and cognitive symptoms. Nurses not only face the immediate threat of physical abuse but also subsequent emotional effects such as fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, helplessness, sadness, low self-esteem and depression (Grenyer et al, 2004). WPV has also been found to have a detrimental effect on nurses’ work performance, contributed to making errors and affected their productivity.

Healthcare organizations cannot control who is being admitted to their hospitals. However, organizations are required to ensure that all efforts have been made to reduce risks of WPV. One way to achieve this is to provide staff working in all areas of the hospital with relevant and up-to-date WPV education and training. Moreover, organizations should be obliged to offer staff emotional and physical support following these events to diminish the negative consequences of WPV.


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