NHS to Crackdown on Racist and Sexist Harassment

Peter Russell

February 18, 2020

The NHS signalled tougher action against patients and hospital visitors who abuse staff.

From April this year, anyone inflicting discriminatory or harassing behaviour on NHS staff in England could be denied non-emergency care.

Previously, individual health organisations could only refuse services to patients if they were aggressive or violent.

The announcement was made as new figures revealed that 28.5% of NHS staff said they had experienced harassment, bullying, or abuse from patients, relatives, or members of the public within the last 12 months.

The survey also revealed a high level of abuse experienced by staff at the hands of their own colleagues and managers.

'Too Much Acceptance That It's Part of the Job'

In a letter to the health workforce today, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said: "There is far too much violence against NHS staff, and too much acceptance that it's part of the job. Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out. I’ve seen it for myself in A&Es, on night shifts, and on ambulances.

"I am horrified that any member of the public would abuse or physically assault a member of our NHS staff but it happens too often."

Results from the NHS Staff Survey 2019 also showed that:

  • 36.9% of NHS staff who have frequent face-to-face contact with patients experienced at least one episode of bullying in the last 12 months

  • 12.3% said they had been bullied by managers, and 19% by other colleagues

  • 14.9% experienced physical violence, up slightly from 14.6% in 2018

NHS England reported that 7.2% of staff said they faced discrimination from patients over the last year – up from 5.8% in 2015. It said racism was the most common form of discrimination reported but that 2019 also saw the highest levels of sexism, and intolerance of religion and sexuality.

NHS, Police, and Prosecutors to Work Together

To counter abuse and violence, the NHS has joined forces with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to approve a joint agreement on offences against emergency workers.

It will also set out a framework to ensure effective investigation and prosecution whenever healthcare staff are the victims of a crime.

In his letter, Mr Hancock encouraged more people to come forward. "I ask that you please ensure that you report every incident and act of abuse or violence against you or a colleague. No act of violence or abuse is minor."

NHS England said it was encouraged that results from the latest staff survey suggested that staff morale had improved across the NHS.

"While teams across the country are under real pressure, NHS staff consistently go the extra mile for patients," said Sir Simon Stevens, head of the NHS. "So as a country we need to show the same commitment to them, which is why we are determined to clamp down on abuse and aggression in all its forms."


The British Medical Association (BMA) said the staff survey did not include those working in primary care. Dr Helena McKeown, a BMA chief officer, said, "we know from our GP members that they face similar issues, whether they are working in practices or putting themselves at risk when visiting patients at home."

The BMA said it was also concerned that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) doctors experienced more abuse and discrimination than their white colleagues. "The NHS could not survive without the incredible contribution of BAME doctors, and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude – and the NHS owes them a duty of care," said Dr McKeown.

The King's Fund described the level of abuse, physical violence, and discrimination against NHS workers by patients and visitors as "shocking".

Suzie Bailey, director of leadership and organisational development at the Fund, said: "The abuse NHS staff suffer at the hands of their own colleagues also remains unacceptably high. NHS managers at all levels of the system need to focus on these results to reverse these trends."

Earlier this month, The Doctors' Association UK said medical staff were too frequently subjected to bullying and harassment.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.