Background. Violence in nursing is not a new phenomenon but in recent years much greater emphasis has been placed on the problem in the United Kingdom (UK). A number of official reports, media stories and national initiatives have focused attention on the problem in this country. However, it is not clear whether violence and abuse have in fact become more prevalent. At present little is known about the scale of the problem for general nurses working in general hospitals in the UK.
Aim of the study. A realistic assessment of the scale of this problem should facilitate a meaningful debate about the interventions needed to counter it and support the requests for funding that will be required. This study aimed to establish the utility of existing research findings, to include relevant but previously unused sources and to synthesize the results.
Method. A systematic search of the literature pertinent to the aim of the study was followed by a critical review. The focus was on research originating in the UK, including some general research on occupational violence which included data on nurses.
Findings. Overall, the research findings are limited. The best available evidence suggests nurses as a whole do face a high level of risk compared with all workers and this excess risk holds for general nurses. The data support a figure of more than 9·5% of general nurses working in general hospitals assaulted (with or without injury) in any 1 year. Trends over time are impossible to identify at present.
Conclusions. Efforts to combat the problem should include greater emphasis on the problem outside accident and emergency departments, prioritizing preregistration training in the management of aggression, and further research. Better reporting should also be a priority.