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CFNU report calls for action on violence in the healthcare sector

More than 60 per cent of nurses experienced violence over past year


OTTAWA, Ont. — About 61 per cent of nurses in Canada have experienced a serious problem with workplace violence over the past year, according to a recent study by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU).

In addition, the number of violence-related lost-time claims from frontline healthcare employees has shot up by nearly two-thirds since 2007 — thrice the rate of increase in similar claims from police officers and correctional officers combined. These are among the conclusions of the CFNU study’s resulting discussion paper, Enough Is Enough: Putting a Stop to Violence in the Health Care Sector, which was published online on May 30.

Out of the nurses who had experienced “serious” violence — which included bullying, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and racial or sexual harassment, as well as physical assault, in the report’s definition — only about three-fifths reported the incidents at the time, and only about 25 per cent sought assistance from their unions. About 66 per cent of all responding nurses said they had considered leaving their jobs over the previous year.

“It’s a pressure cooker out there for nurses on the frontline,” CFNU president Linda Silas wrote in the report. “Violence is a symptom of an unhealthy work environment. It contributes to nurse absenteeism.”

She added that all healthcare workers have a right to safe workplaces free of violence, bullying and abuse. “Every day, we go to work knowing that we may be verbally or physically abused,” said Silas. “Nurses in every healthcare sector are being punched, kicked, spat on and sworn at.”

The paper included provincial statistics about violence in the healthcare sector, as well as specific accounts of violent incidents in healthcare facilities across the country. One section listed actions that provincial nursing unions had been taking to prevent violence in the sector.

The report also detailed CFNU’s plan to curb healthcare violence over 2017 and 2018. Among the items in the plan:

— work with member organizations to improve occupational health and safety law and consistency of enforcement;
— lobby for improvements in police investigations of incidents and more criminal charges against patients who assault workers;
— lobby for changes to the Westray Law and the Criminal Code to make the nursing profession an aggravating factor in sentencing assailants;
— host a national roundtable on healthcare violence; and
— develop a toolkit to teach best practices on violence.

“It is time to speak up and say clearly and emphatically: ‘Violence is not part of our job,’” wrote Silas.

Enough Is Enough is available online at https://nursesunions.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/CFNU_Enough-is-Enough_June1_FINALlow.pdf.