Violence a daily risk for care home staff, study finds

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Violence against staff at care homes has become “normalised” and most incidents go unreported, a new study suggests.

Physical assault, verbal abuse and sexual harassment are some of the risks faced daily by nurses and other care workers, researchers at the University of Stirling found.

The team interviewed almost 60 staff at seven long-term care facilities in Ontario, Canada, between 2016 and 2018.

They said the violence they encountered was typically the result of residents’ fear, confusion and agitation.

They cited causes such as under-staffing, inappropriate resident placement, and inadequate time for emotional and social care.

The impact on staff included injury, emotional trauma and burnout, but the majority of incidents were said to go unreported due to fear of reprisals from supervisors.

One participant told the study: “I asked to be excused from caring for someone who was punching me on a daily basis and causing bruising.

“My supervisor actually said to me: ‘This is part of your job.’”

The work was carried out by Dr Jim Brophy and Dr Margaret Keith of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, and Michael Hurley of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions / Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Dr Brophy said the public healthcare system is facing a ‘deepening crisis’ (University of Stirling/PA)

“There is widespread recognition that the public healthcare system in Canada – as in other countries – is facing a deepening crisis, with working and residential care conditions at breaking point.

“This study adds new evidence and confirms previous scientific investigations that suggest violence is a significant risk factor in the day-to-day experience of long-term care staff.

“We found that physical and verbal abuse, as well as sexual harassment, have been allowed to become normalised within these work environments.”

The study, Breaking Point: Violence Against Long-Term Care Staff, is published in New Solutions and was funded by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions / Canadian Union of Public Employees.

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