NURSES' uniforms no longer protect them from verbal abuse and violence, a survey carried out for the Royal College of Nursing has shown. And for the first time, the College is advising its members not to assume that they will, writes Nicholas Timmins.
The discovery was described yesterday as 'very sad' by Christine Hancock, its general secretary, who said that 15 or so years ago when she was a uniformed nurse in south London: 'I never paid a bus fare because people would stop at the bus stop to give you a lift to where you were going.'
Now some community and district nurses are fearful of wearing their uniform when out on visits, believing it increased their chances of being attacked by people who mistakenly believed they carried drugs.
The survey of 1,100 community nurses showed violence against them was very rare. But a quarter had been verbally abused in the past year and one in 20 threatened with violence. Almost 60 per cent were in uniform at the time. The College is now formally advising its members: 'Don't assume because you are in uniform you will be immune from attack.'
The study, however, showed that while community nurses felt threatened and wanted mobile phones, personal alarms and other safety equipment, almost half of the incidents took place in health centres and less than 10per cent were outside normal working hours.