Cuts to mental health services leave staff facing violence and aggression

Union says that reduced funding to mental health services across the UK is leaving staff vulnerable to violence and aggression from patients.

The report, Struggling to Cope, paints a bleak picture of the country’s mental health services – for both staff and users. It is based on a survey of over 1,000 mental health employees across the UK, who work in a range of roles – with children and adults in hospitals, in secure units and out in the community.

42% of staff said they had been on the receiving end of violent attacks in the last year while 36% said they had witnessed violent incidents involving patients attacking their colleagues. Comments from some staff suggest that “violent or aggressive incidents happen on a daily basis”, and that they “go with the job”.


One worker described being “repeatedly punched to the floor”, while others spoke of “attempted strangulation”, or being head-butted, spat on, kicked and bitten.

Sara Gorton, Head of Health for Unison, said:

“These findings highlight a range of deep-rooted issues in mental health services that need to be addressed urgently.

“The lack of prevention and absence of early intervention services mean that by the time many people access help, they are already very ill and at crisis point.

“Severe staff shortages mean there are fewer mental health employees to deal with a rising number of users with complex needs. As a result, many staff are having to work alone, making violent attacks more likely. It’s no wonder so many are planning on leaving for less stressful, safer work elsewhere.”

The news comes only a week after the RCN called for an “urgent review” of hospital staffing levels after they warned patient safety and dignity is being put at risk by over-stretched services.