Cuts to mental health services are leaving carers vulnerable to violence from patients and are exacerbating the staff retention crisis, public sector union warns.
In a survey of over 1,000 mental health employees across the UK by Unison more than two in five (42%) said they had been on the receiving end of violent attacks in the last year.
Over a third (36%) said they had witnessed violent incidents involving patients attacking their colleagues.
While the majority (86%) felt they had the knowledge and training to carry out their work safely, more than a third (36%) said they had seen an increase in violent incidents in the past year.
According to the survey, which is published in the report Struggling to Cope, the mental health workers blamed staff shortages (87%) and the overuse of agency staff (49%) as the main reasons behind the rise in violent attacks.
Unison also discovered that the threat of violence to these workers is also more acute because cuts mean that a third of staff (33%) are now having to work alone.
More than a third (34%) of the mental health workers who took part in the survey are thinking about leaving their jobs in mental health, and 14% are actively planning on doing so.
The main reasons cited were they had not had a decent pay rise for seven years (44%), the impact of their work on their own mental health and well-being (38%), and the poor state of the mental health sector (37%).
‘These findings highlight a range of deep-rooted issues in mental health services that need to be addressed urgently,’ said Unison head of health Sara Gorton.
‘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.’