DECRYPTION. Violence against caregivers: “The risk of being killed when working in the hospital, that’s it, we’re there”

Home DECRYPTION. Violence against caregivers: “The risk of being killed when working in the hospital, that’s it, we’re there”
Written by Doug Hampton

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The rise in violence against nursing staff is an undeniable truth, as shown by the latest report from the annual observatory on the safety of doctors published on Tuesday, May 23. On the ground, some experience it as a fatality, but for others, it could be stemmed with a better offer of care.

The coincidence of the calendar could almost make you smile, if it hadn’t taken on such a dramatic hue. While the Reims University Hospital suffered from the terrible loss of one of its nurses, who died after being attacked with a knife, the Order of Physicians rightly published on Tuesday, as long planned, its annual Observatory of the safety of doctors , based on reports of aggression made by practitioners, liberals or hospitals. And precisely, these reports increased by 23% in 2022, amounting to 1244, a record since the creation of the Observatory in 2003, and which confirms the upward trend.

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And it would be “only the tip of the iceberg”, since incidents are not reported, warns Doctor Jean-Jacques Avrane, in charge of the Observatory at the Council of the Order. For him, “there is a general violence in society that we cannot escape”. According to the latest figures made available by the Ministry of Health, moreover, 29,214 people were victims of an assault (verbal or physical) in 2021 in a health establishment, of which 10,577 were nurses.

Nurses, like the victim of this man who clearly suffered from psychiatric disorders. This is not surprising, “because it is the nurses, with the nursing auxiliaries and the medical secretaries, mainly women, who are the most exposed to this violence”, slips us, bitter, a member of staff from the University Hospital of Toulouse. He sees in this dramatic news item an outcome that seemed inevitable. “It’s been announced for years that it will happen, that the risk of being killed at work when you work in the hospital exists, and that’s it, we’re there.” At issue, according to this union delegate, “still and always a lack of staff, that’s what we miss, especially when faced with patients who suffer from psychiatric disorders. Here, in the emergency room, all the staff members will tell you that they have already been assaulted.”

And to recall that in Toulouse, a few months ago, the security of the Marchant hospital was at the center of the discussions after the escape of the “cannibal of the Pyrenees”, who had attacked an elderly woman in the city center.


Others put forward more generally a trivialization of violence. “We see staff attacks every day, verbal and sometimes physical violence,” says Catherine Tissot, head of nursing staff management at Belfort-Montbéliard hospital, present at the SantExpo health trade fair in Paris which opened yesterday. For her, “there is no more respect for the care staff, for the institution”.

“For five to ten years, there has been an escalation: people are more demanding, less tolerant, they want everything, right away” and sometimes go as far as “aggressiveness and violence”, adds Patrick Leblanc, nurse and health executive in a hospital in the Oise. “A month ago, a family attacked a nurse verbally because she did not answer a bell quickly enough. It went as far as physical rapprochement, the nurse took refuge” in the caregivers’ room to protect themselves, he says.

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And it is the loved ones who are often more problematic than the patients themselves. “Besides, since the covid, it’s better on that side since we have limited the presence of accompanying persons”, underlines the Toulouse employee.

Still, this rise in aggressiveness worries hospitals, because these attacks “further increase the feeling of exhaustion of the profession”, sighs the director of care at a hospital in Essonne. “It’s already complicated to recruit nurses…”

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