Campaign: NHS stands up to violence against staff

According to the latest government figures, more than 60,000 NHS staff were physically assaulted by patients or their relatives last year.

Campaign Your Choice of Treatment
Client NHS Security Management Service
PR team In-house
Timescale June-July 2006
Budget £20,000

The NHS Security Management Service (NHSSMS), the government body responsible for tackling crime within the health service, described the figures as ‘shocking', and decided more needed to be done to ensure patients understood that attacks on staff would not be tolerated.

To raise public awareness of the fact that those who attack NHS staff face tough penalties, including a prison term, a fine or removal from the premises. To highlight the message that violence against staff will not be tolerated. To offer reassurances to NHS staff that action is being taken to protect them.

Strategy and Plan
With a limited budget of £20,000 the NHSSMS in-house comms team decided to stage a local pilot campaign which, if successful, could be used as a powerful negotiating tool to gain funding for a nationwide campaign.

Leicester was selected because - with 270 attacks on NHS staff reported over 2005 - its workers suffered a
higher than average level of violence. Because a high proportion of violent incidents against staff are alcohol related, and tend to involve young men, the PR team used the 2006 World Cup as a hook, with promotional activity taking place in pubs and nightclubs, as well as through local media.

The main message being promoted was that drunkenness or ‘being in an emotive state' were not valid excuses for using violence against hospital workers. Press releases were drafted highlighting Leicester's attack statistics, while case studies of staff who had experienced violence were provided ahead of a launch event on 14 June.

The launch involved the Lord Mayor of Leicester unveiling a campaign billboard. In addition, local broadcast media were encouraged to use the topic of ‘violence in the NHS' on chat shows.

Measurement and Evaluation
The story was covered in local newspaper the Leicester Mercury on a number of occasions, including an article on 15 June, headlined ‘Care or cuffs, your choice', and an editorial headlined ‘Why violent patients must face prison'.

BBC Radio Leicestershire and Leicester Sound featured the campaign, with the former using it for the basis of a discussion programme. Meanwhile, BBC East Midlands TV ran a story on the attack statistics.

Evaluation carried out by Test Research found that following the campaign, 50 per cent of those interviewed were aware of the issue of violence against NHS staff - compared with one in five prior to launch.

Of those that were not aware of the campaign, 40 per cent strongly disagreed with the statement that ‘the NHS is unconcerned about violence against staff'. Among those who had witnessed the campaign, this figure rose to 61 per cent.

Meanwhile, just three per cent of those who had seen the campaign felt that NHS staff should expect some
verbal abuse as ‘part of the job', with the figure rising to 11 per cent for those who had not seen the campaign.

Leicester Mercury reporter Andrew Whitaker says: ‘It was a fairly solid overnight story. I remember the PR person with whom I dealt being very helpful - he had most of the information that I needed at hand.'


With a small budget this campaign achieved its aim of highlighting the fact that people who attack NHS staff face imprisonment or fines. In particular, I thought the hard-hitting statistics were well used. This grabbed the media's attention, resulting in BBC TV and local radio and press coverage.

Using the Lord Mayor of Leicester to unveil the billboard was a smart local PR trick. Most local papers have a reporter designated to cover the activities of the mayor, so it was a good tactic to ‘guarantee' exposure.

A good campaign is all about measurement and evaluation. The fact that post-campaign, more than 50 per cent of people were aware of the issue of violence against NHS staff (compared with 20 per cent previously) is evidence that the message got through.

Perhaps one area in which the campaign did not deliver was widespread national coverage, as the topic is worthy of front-page headlines and a national TV lead story. As a regional PR exponent I am always pushing for more local stories to ‘go national', and I am surprised this failed to happen here. However, my understanding is that it was a trial to generate PR funds for future national activity. If this was the case, it can be regarded as well worth the spend.

I would hope that funding for the wider campaign will now be made more easily available.

Nick Brown, group PR director at Golley Slater, has worked on campaigns for the British Army, the DTI, the BBC and several city Councils

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