UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, is today (20 August) calling for a rapid response to the Boorman report, to ensure that quality occupational health services are available to staff across the NHS.

The union is highlighting the case of a psychiatric nurse, who was attacked twice in as many years.

During one of the assaults, Juliet Satterthwaite (49), was forced to endure a prolonged attack by a patient because of staff shortages and faulty personal alarms.

Around 56,000 NHS staff were physically attacked in the NHS last year, leading to a heavy toll on staff health and sickness levels.

In this latest legal case, the union secured compensation for Juliet from Throckley, Newcastle. The nurse needed intensive counselling and was off work for five months following the attack by a patient with a violent history.

Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health, said:

“Sadly, Juliet’s case is all too common in the NHS, with staff suffering violence and abuse on a daily basis. Trusts should not wait for the final Boorman report before taking action to ensure workers have access to quality occupational health care across the NHS. 

“In addition, Trusts must look carefully at the underlying causes of sickness absence, as many accidents and violent incidents are preventable - as Juliet’s case so clearly shows. To be attacked twice in as many years is frightening enough, but it is a disgrace that she was subjected to a prolonged assault because of the lack of staff and faulty personal alarms.”

Juliet suffered facial scarring and hair loss since the incident at St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth in March 2006.

The patient had been on 24-hour observation for assaulting an employee and should have been watched by two members of staff, who were trained in control and restraint.

The nurse had been on night shift duty, with only an untrained agency worker, because of a staff shortage.

And the agency nurse was unable to pull the man off Ms Satterthwaite when the patient became violent.

The nurses pressed their alarms, but they failed to work, and the patient grabbed the nurse in a headlock, pulled out her earrings and hair and clawed at her face and nose leaving deep cuts, before help finally arrived.

Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland Mental Health NHS Trust admitted liability and settled a claim for £6,500 out of court.

The UNISON member, who has worked at the hospital for nine years, was assaulted again, in an unprovoked attack by a patient in 2008, when a chair was thrown by a patient.

This time, two male colleagues helped restrain the man, but she received soft tissue injuries to her leg.

Action has not been taken against the Trust, but an offer was received this week for a claim under the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

Juliet Satterthwaite said: “I still have scars from the violent attack – both physically and mentally.

“For five months I couldn’t go anywhere and my children, who were upset at what had happened, had to do everything for me.

“I have been assaulted twice in two years, a colleague was attacked around four weeks ago and I hear about other victims elsewhere.

“Assaults should not be part and parcel of the job, and employers should be supportive.

“I feel like I was left out on a limb and am just as vulnerable now as I was then. It is only a matter of time before the same thing happens again.

“Nurses have the right to go to work and feel safe.”

Nicola Waugh, from Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Working with mental health patients can be a challenging role, but with the right training and procedures accidents like this can be avoided.

"In this case the situation could have been controlled quickly if the appropriate number of trained staff had been present.

“The extensive injuries received by Mrs Satterthwaite would have been prevented had the personal alarms been working and assistance arrived much quicker."