Some mental health and learning disability nurses are too ready to restrain patients

Some mental health and learning disability nurses are too ready to restrain patients, according to speakers at the NMC's national conference on the management of violence in health care.

In 2001 there were 116,000 reported assaults on NHS staff, of which 50,000 occurred in a mental health or learning disability setting. The two-day conference, which was held in Liverpool and finished today, attracted a capacity audience, reflecting widespread concern over the issue.

Rick Tucker, the NMC’s professional advisor on mental health nursing issues, told delegates that physical restraint needs to be "a last resort" but some nurses were using it in place of listening and talking skills. He added that half of the cases of restraint in mental health are carried out in order to enforce medication.

In his address to the conference, Mr Tucker said he was ashamed of some of the restraints he had taken part in during his career as a mental health nurse: “I am still haunted by the cries of one mental health patient from the beginning of my career, who, having refused an injection, was restrained by myself and other nurses. Looking at it now I can’t say it was anything other than assault.”

His view was backed up by Sharon Powell and Ron Sylvester of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD).

Ms Powell, a learning disability nurse for 18 years, told delegates it was time for a fundamental change to the way nurses related to patients with learning disabilities. She said: "I know I have taken part in restraints that should never have happened." Mr Sylvester, an epileptic who was held at the Rampton high security hospital for seven years, described how he was jumped on, punched and kicked by nurses, and also sedated against his will.

The conference also discussed the social factors that were contributing to the rising level of violence against nurses such as alcohol abuse, domestic violence and what one delegate described as "the macho culture of knife carrying".

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