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Workplace violence: NHS issues new guidance, whilst retailers plan for a rise in shoplifting incidents

With levels of violence and abuse continuing to rise in the workplace, the NHS issues new guidance, whilst retailers plan for a rise in shoplifting…

In our recent article on violence in the workplace we reported the results of the recent British Retail Consortium (BRC) Crime Survey. This revealed rising levels of violence and abuse visited upon retail workers with an average of 1,301 incidents each day — up from 455 each day in the previous year.

Here, we discuss both the recent guidance issued by the NHS on violence prevention and reduction, alongside the plans of one major retailer to counteract anticipated rising levels of shoplifting consequent to the enduring cost of living crisis.


The NHS, as the UK’s largest employer has, since the launch of its violence reduction strategy in 2018, taken a number of steps to reduce incidents of physical violence and harassment experienced by its workforce.

The 2021 staff survey, of 600,000 respondents from 220 trusts, revealed 14.3% of staff had experienced at least one incident of physical violence from patients, service users, relatives or other members of the public in the last 12 months. This followed the previous year’s survey, published in February 2020, which showed a staggering 28.5% of staff had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse over the previous 12 months.

From April 2020, the NHS has been able to debar non-emergency care to patients who are responsible for harassment or discriminatory behaviour. The law also now recognises that assault involving an emergency services worker is a mandatory aggravating feature to be taken into account when criminal sentencing is undertaken. Neither measure appears yet to have resulted in any serious reduction in incidents of violence or harassment.

On 2 January 2021, the NHS published “Violence, Protection and Reduction Standard” as the next step in protecting its workforce. More recently, on 13 June 2022, a 30 page guidance booklet was published to supplement the Standard with the aim of sharing, communicating the risks and mitigation controls which, it says, “will help with the implementation of a data driven focus upon colleague health and well-being

The guidance

This requires all providers of NHS services to review their status against the VPR Standard at a minimum of six-monthly intervals, alongside a minimum of twice-yearly compliance assessments, or quarterly, if significant concerns are identified.

The VPR Standard was developed with the Social Partnership Forums and is a four-step management tool “Plan-Do-Study-Act” which is only achieved “once all indicators have been met and fully evidenced”. The guidance makes it plain that executive and senior management level collaboration is a necessary pre-requisite for the Standard to be reached.

Detailed guidance is provided for each of the four steps. Planning must involve the use of both quantitative and qualitative data to include staff sickness, surveys and intelligence generated through informal conversations. Best practice and clinical guidance should also be reflected with wide engagement recommended, through not just medical and nursing staff but with patient groups, health and safety representatives and the Care Quality Commission. 

The need for risk assessments and accountability are stressed with a clear statement of what each provider should be aiming to achieve.

Additional guidance for the remaining three steps includes ensuring sufficient resource is available to meet the VPR Standard and delineation of roles and responsibilities, with an emphasis upon training and encouraging a positive reporting culture.


A leaked national strategy paper reveals that the police are preparing for a rise in crime and potential breakdown in public order this winter — reported in The Sunday Times (4 September 2022).

The paper reports police expectation of an increase in “acquisitive” offences to include shoplifting, burglary and vehicle theft. The article records the Chairman of Tesco planning to boost security in stores given fears that the cost of living crisis could lead to a surge in shoplifting.


Whilst the NHS is unique in its size and structure, it is not unique amongst employers which suffer from comparatively high levels of physical violence and harassment in the workplace.

The NHS VPR Standard and the recent accompanying guidance provide some encouragement that incidents will start to recede in time. The comprehensive level of detail in both documents suggests that they may be adopted by other employers as the ‘gold standard’, particularly by those in the retail sector, against which their actions should be judged.

Although all data sources point to a long term downward trend of reducing employers’ liability personal injury claims, two areas presently buck this trend: workplace violence and work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

The impending austerity which will be felt by many will only add upward pressure on levels of acquisitive retail theft and increase the risk of physical violence suffered by retail workers. It is hoped that both retailers and police authorities will work in tandem to protect employees.

In this context, however, it is much too soon for levels of workplace violence to follow the downward trend shown by other workplace injury claims. 

Should you wish to discuss this article further or any of the points raised with regards to workplace violence, then please contact our expert team of occupational disease solicitors today.