Steve Barclay accused of breaking pledge over NHS staff abuse data


NHS staff have accused Steve Barclay of breaking a pledge to publish details of how many of them are abused and assaulted in the course of their work.

In 2018, when Barclay was a junior minister in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), he promised he would resume publication of those statistics in the following year.

However, five years later, Barclay has not fulfilled his pledge, despite being in his second stint as health secretary.

One health union called his inaction a “broken promise”, while Labour claimed that “ministers are burying their heads in the sand” on aggression against frontline staff, which has become more common since the Covid-19 pandemic began three years ago.

In March 2018, Barclay told the Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb in a written parliamentary answer that “the [DHSC] is working with the NHS on a new data collection for violence against and abuse of NHS staff, which should be introduced from 2019”.

A health service body called NHS Protect had collated and published data on the number of verbal and physical attacks on NHS staff in England for many years, but it did so for the last time in 2016, when it published the figures for 2015-16, and was scrapped in 2017.

Barclay restated his commitment to “a new data collection” in a further written parliamentary answer to the Conservative ex-health minister Dan Poulter in September 2018.

However, the health minister Will Quince recently confirmed to the shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, that the plan had been dropped.

“The Conservatives’ approach to violence and abuse against paramedics and nurses is ‘ignorance is bliss’. What kind of protection is that for the heroes of the pandemic?” said Streeting.

“Instead of burying their heads in the sand, ministers should do the bare minimum and count the instances of violence and abuse against NHS staff.”

NHS Protect’s last dataset showed that the number of assaults on NHS staff rose by almost a quarter, from 56,718 in 2009-10 to 70,555 in 2015-16. They are the last England-wide figures available. Although the 215 NHS trusts collect data, that is no longer collated into a national report.