The trust behind a Suffolk hospital has recorded a huge spike in incidents of abuse towards healthcare workers, as the ambulance service has introduced measures including body worn cameras amid increases there.

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Ipswich Hospital and Colchester Hospital, recorded a total of 451 incidents of abuse on staff in 2023, 358 of which were classed as 'non-intentional' and 93 of which were 'intentional'.

This was 284 more than the total of 167 incidents that took place in the pre-Covid year of 2019, and the highest total recorded by the trust in the last five years.

East Anglian Daily Times: ESNEFT, which runs Ipswich Hospital, has recorded a rise in cases of abuse on staffESNEFT, which runs Ipswich Hospital, has recorded a rise in cases of abuse on staff (Image: Sarah Lucy Brown, Newsquest)

This comes alongside a rise in reports of abuse, including sexual assault and violence, to ambulance workers. 

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust said fewer than 1,000 cases were recorded in 2016/17, while 1,189 were recorded in 2022/23, including 329 incidents of physical assault, and 1,283 in 2023/24, including 240 physical assaults.

The ambulance trust has taken steps, including the introduction of body-worn cameras, and ESNEFT security staff already take such precautions. 

ESNEFT also has a violence and aggression policy which allows the organisation to ban patients or members of public from its sites for a year when absolutely necessary. 

Darren Darby, chief nurse at ESNEFT, said: "Keeping our staff as safe as possible at work is a huge priority for us. We have a zero tolerance policy towards any kind of violence at the Trust. This includes physical, verbal, gender or racial abuse.

"We strongly encourage all our staff and volunteers to report any incidents of violence and aggression. We also regularly review how we track these reports through the organisation so we can support and improve learning and training.

"We have a staged approach to handling antisocial, violent and aggressive behaviours and there are several actions we will consider taking to maintain both staff and patient safety."

Tom Abell, chief executive at EEAST, said: "We have seen an increase in the abuse of our people, ranging from sexual assault and violence to abuse and aggression. This has a significant impact on our people.   

East Anglian Daily Times: Tom Abell, chief executive of East of England Ambulance Service Trust Tom Abell, chief executive of East of England Ambulance Service Trust (Image: EEAST)

"Any form of abuse is unacceptable, and we have taken steps, such as the introduction of body worn cameras to ensure any perpetrators are reported by the police and we seek the highest penalties under the law.

"Despite these difficulties, our staff remain dedicated to their duties and continue helping patients.   

"When you have an emergency, our frontline and call-handling staff are there for you, but however stressful the situation, we ask that you treat our staff with  respect."

At West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, CCTV is in operation and the on-site security are equipped with body-worn cameras. 

A trust spokesperson said: "We understand that being in hospital or receiving treatment can be a stressful time for both patients and relatives.

"However, the safety of our hard-working staff is paramount, and our Trust does not tolerate verbal or physical abuse towards staff under any circumstances.

East Anglian Daily Times: West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St EdmundsWest Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds (Image: Newsquest)

"We encourage our staff to report all incidents and have measures in place to maintain a safe and supportive working environment in our hospitals and throughout the community."

They said staff are offered 'ongoing support' if incidents occur and can access the staff psychological support team, made up of clinical psychologists, special therapists and counsellors. 

Figures from the 2022 NHS Staff Survey show that across England, 28% of staff had been subject to harassment, bullying or abuse from patients, their relatives or other members of the public while at work.

Similar year-long bans on aggressive visitors and the introduction of body-worn cameras has also taken place at other trusts, including Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust where abuse cases have doubled in the last three years.