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Assaults on staff: clear policies needed

24 October 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 19


Sam Foster, Chief Nurse, Oxford University Hospitals, discusses what a health organisation's response should be to a report of a sexual assault on a member of staff

Last month I received an email from a distressed member of staff who reported that they had been the victim of a sexual assault by a patient. Aside from the obvious impact that this had on the individual, one of their key concerns was that, despite a compassionate response from their line manager, they had difficulty in understanding what response they should expect from the wider organisation.

I was extremely concerned when I read about the experience of this colleague, and I asked them to meet with me. They agreed to meet to share their experience and also to offer their reflections on what was missing from the organisation's response. They felt that there were gaps in the following areas:

  • A lack of policies or guidelines for staff with clear information following an assault. They had looked at other trusts and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and found that many have policies against assault, even though sexual assault needs to be clarified, for example, Northampton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (2015) or Hartlepool and Stockton CCG (2016)
  • A lack of understanding of what happens after escalating the matter to other services, such as the police, and how the information shared is used
  • There was no apparent debriefing process
  • A delay in seeing occupational health
  • Duty of candour: there was confusion over how this would apply due to a lack of guidelines on how to handle a staff-related rather than a patient-related incident.
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