HOSPITALS have been blasted over safety policies after it emerged patients attacked each other nearly 2,000 times in the last three years.
The violent incidents in NHS Lothian hospitals and clinics have been blamed on staff shortages and the behaviour of mental health patients who lash out as a “symptom of their illness”.
It comes two months after an 87-year-old war veteran was nearly beaten to death as he lay sleeping in his hospital bed.
Pressure groups said the figures are “alarming” and suggest an increase in hospital violence as it is now no longer just directed at staff.
Those responsible for hospital care have also been accused of taking patient-on-patient violence “seriously enough”.
But health chiefs claimed their aggression monitoring measures are “robust” and they learn from the outcome of each incident.
A Freedom of Information request showed NHS Lothian hospitals have seen patient attacks as many as 1,991 times since 2009.
The figures also revealed police had been called to deal with aggressive patients 72 times from 2011 to 2012 but there was anger officers did not attend every incident.
The Royal Edinburgh Hospital – the city’s main psychiatric unit – recorded the highest number of 1077 incidents.
Three other noticeably high incident rates were recorded at Craigshill Care Facility, St John’s Hospital and Primrose Lodge with 99, 85 and 59 cases respectively.
There were also seven attacks at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in 2011, which works with children and young people under 18-years-old.
In October last year 87-year-old war veteran Philip Rutherford was assaulted in his sleep by a fellow patient using a metal pole as a weapon.
Frail Philip, who was staying in the Western General in Edinburgh, was battered over the head with a pole used to hang drip feeds – he also sustained a broken hand.
In September last year at Wishaw General Hospital a elderly dementia-suffering patient was smashed over the head and stabbed in the groin as he lay sleeping.
Margaret Watt of the patient watchdog Scotland Patients Association described the figures as “unacceptable”.
“These statistics are very alarming. Anyone who is agitated as a result of mental health problems should not be put in a ward with other patients and this is where we go back to a shortage of nurses.
“People in hospital are very vulnerable and we don’t want any harm to come to them.
“The police having been called only 72 times is totally unacceptable – they should be called to every assault.
“If these attacks happened out in civvy street the person responsible would be up on a charge. I don’t think it’s being taken seriously enough.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said patients should dealt with more “severely” to stop aggressive behaviour in wards.
He said: “We know NHS Lothian has had issues with the bullying of staff.
“Now it appears that culture has dribbled down to patients.
“It’s crucial that patients and their families know that not only will they be receiving top quality clinical care, but that they will be kept safe from attacks as well.
“If that means dealing severely with aggressive patients, then that’s how it has to be.
“Many of these will have occurred in psychiatric hospitals, where of course such issues are more complex.
“Nevertheless, we have a duty to ensure patients of all categories can feel secure while under the care of the NHS.”
Nurse director at NHS Lothian, Melanie Hornett, said: “We do not tolerate any form of violence or aggression towards other patients or our staff.
“However, we do have a number of patients who may display violent behaviour as a symptom of their illness and our staff work extremely hard to manage this risk.
“We have a robust system for the reporting and monitoring of incidents.
“All incidents are fully investigated and we act on any learning points to prevent reoccurrence.
“A comprehensive staff training programme in is place to provide guidance on how to de-escalate threatening situations and on reporting incidents to the police.”