THOUSANDS of physical and verbal attacks have been recorded on public sector workers in the North East, a snapshot survey has revealed.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has shown there were 7,135 reported attacks on council and National Health Service workers between 2010 and 2012.
Out of these incidents 6,285 were physical attacks and 850 were verbal assaults. Only 159 were reported to police, but 53 were deemed so serious that they were referred to the Health and Safety Executive.
Those who reported attacks included teachers, classroom assistants, care workers, catering staff, NHS employees and social workers.
But the real number will be significantly higher as the figures, which were obtained by the solicitors Truth Legal, include only Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle City Council and Northumberland County Council.
Union chiefs have insisted more must be done to crackdown on the problem, but council bosses have criticised the figures as misleading.
Trevor Johnston, Unison’s lead officer for health in the North East, said: “There must be a zero-tolerance approach against physical and verbal attacks towards employees.
“It should be a case that those who attack workers do not continue to get the service provided as people must have respect towards those who are helping them. It is essential that workers don’t feel threatened in any way when they’re going about their everyday duties.
“Employers must take any reports of violence seriously and report them to police so that appropriate steps can be taken to deal with the issue.”
Injuries sustained from acts of physical violence included scratches, bruises, bites, bleeding, emotional distress and tissue damage.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust had the highest number of physical assaults on staff, with a total of 5,151 from July 2010 to July 2012. Out of these incidents, 3,581 assaults were on female members of staff compared with 1,570 on male staff.
The mental health trust has revealed that in 2011-12, the number of incidents that were sufficiently serious enough to be reported to the police was 111, compared with 47 the year before. Since 2010, a total of 51 incidents were reported to the Health and Safety Executive.
Meanwhile, Nothumberland County Council revealed that since 2010 it has recorded 965 physical assaults and 117 verbal threats of violence. Care staff reported the highest number of physical attacks at a total of 834.
The total number of physical assaults at Newcastle City Council from July 2010 to July 2012 is 169. The number of threats of assault is reported as 20.
However, council chiefs have insisted that, for the most part, there were no injuries, or referrals to police as the assailants tended to be vulnerable people living in care facilities.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman said: “The vast majority of recorded ‘assaults’ against council staff were in fact minor incidents involving vulnerable people in care settings.
“In most cases, there were no injuries sustained. The council takes a serious view of violence, verbal abuse and threatening behaviour against our staff and we encourage them to report all incidents, however minor they may be.
“This can lead to some very minor incidents being recorded as assaults in the final analysis, so it’s important not to take these figures out of context.”
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said mental health services record higher rates of assaults on their staff and they act on all reports of violence or aggression.
A spokesman added: “Patients suffering from a mental illness or learning disability can often demonstrate challenging behaviours which are sadly a symptom of their illness.
“As one of the largest mental health and disability NHS trusts in the UK, our results are comparable with other mental health trusts of similar size.”
Patients can often demonstrate behaviours which are sadly a symptom of their illness