One third of all nurses are assaulted by patients | National Union of Public and General Employees

One third of all nurses are assaulted by patients

Massive 2005 survey collected responses from 12,200 nurses across the country.

Ottawa (17 April 2009) - A new report by Statistics Canada says one third of nurses reported they were physically assaulted by a patient in 2005 while nearly half were subjected to emotional abuse.

The agency said the finding is based on a study involving 12,200 nurses among a total of 218,000 delivering direct patient care in hospitals and long-term care facilities across Canada during 2005.

The findings included 34% who reported physical assaults on the job and 47% who experienced emotional abuse.

Reports of physical assault were highest among nurses working in geriatrics and long-term care (50%), palliative care (47%), psychiatry and mental health (44%), critical care (44%) and emergency rooms (42%).

Ninety-four per cent (94%) of those surveyed were female compared to 6% for males. Among the male nurses, 46% reported having been physically assaulted.

Margot Shields and Kathryn Wilkins of the Health Information and Research Division at the agency noted in their report that other researchers have concluded that male nurses face violent patients more often than their female counterparts and they may also take on the job of restraining aggressive patients more frequently.

Studies have suggested that on-the-job abuse can result in anger, fear, depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, increased sick leave, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and job dissatisfaction, the authors note.

"In addition, the likelihood of intending to leave their jobs or even the nursing profession altogether is greater among nurses who have experienced abuse on the job," they add.

After taking gender and job characteristics into account, the authors said four workplace factors are linked with assault and abuse:

  • Adequacy of staffing and resources.
  • Nurse-physician working relations.
  • Support from supervisors.
  • Support from co-workers.

More than half of the nurses surveyed felt there were not enough nurses on staff to provide quality patient care (56%) or to get the work done (52%). Among other findings: 47% felt they lacked enough support services to spend time with patients; 46% reported being exposed to hostility or conflict from co-workers and 28% indicated that a supervisor was not helpful in getting the job done. A lack of teamwork between nurses and physicians was reported by 19%.

"These potentially harmful consequences and the pervasiveness of abuse of Canada’s nurses emphasize the importance of staffing and resource adequacy and interpersonal relations among health care providers," the report concludes.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

More information:
Statistics Canada Study: Factors related to on-the-job abuse of nurses by patients

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