Violence against psychiatry employees often unpunished: study

Violence against psychiatry staff often ends up unpunished, and employees also rarely press charges after being attacked by a patient, according to a study by the Vrije Universiteit. "In practice, the patient has license to use violence against staff", researcher Joke Harte said to the Volkskrant.

Annually between 30 and 40 percent of employees in psychiatric institutions are victims of physical violence from patients, according to the study. According to Harte, this goes further than employees getting a few punches when they have to transfer patients to separate rooms.

If employees report violence to the police, it often doesn't go as far as prosecution, even if the perpetrator is legally accountable. According to psychiatry staff, the police consider violence to be part of their job description and find filing a declaration unnecessary as the Public Prosecutor would drop the case. Another argument for not filing a declaration, is that the perpetrator can't help it because he or she is a patient. "That's not always true", Harte said to the newspaper. "Sometimes it involves a targeted attack on an employee."

Employees often also struggle with doctor-patient confidentiality, other VU researcher Ingrid van Houwelingen added. This often means that employees can give very little information, which makes it difficult to report violence, she said to the newspaper. "Last year a psychiatrist received a warning from the disciplinary committee. She advised the Prosecutor to transfer a patient that was making death threats to a more secure clinic." Psychiatry employees also worry about revenge actions from patients, as the employee's anonymity can't be guaranteed when filing a declaration, according to the researchers. 

Mental health service GGZ Nederland is meeting with the Public Prosecutor to find a way to address these problems. A spokesperson for the Public Prosecutor told the Volkskrant that at least employees need a better explanation of why a case is dropped.