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Verbal abuse in the National Health Service: impressions of the prevalence, perceived reasons for and relationships with staff psychological well-being
  1. Christine A Sprigg1,
  2. Christopher J Armitage1,
  3. Kate Hollis2
  1. 1Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
  2. 2Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 C A Sprigg
 Institute of Work Psychology (IWP), Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TN, UK; c.a.sprigg{at}


Aim: To investigate the prevalence, perceived causes and relationship to psychological well-being of verbal abuse in a National Health Service (NHS) ambulance service control room (ASCR).

Method: Questionnaire survey with ASCR personnel (n = 48).

Results: 7% of calls per shift were verbally abusive; the most common sources were patients or emergency callers. Verbally abusive calls were associated with staff having poorer mental health and the desire to leave.

Conclusion: Support from managers in the form of clear protocols to deal with abusive callers and training in verbal de-escalation techniques are recommended.

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  • Full ethical approval was granted by the relevant Trust.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Author contributions: CAS (guarantor) provided the original idea for the study, set up the study with the organisation, supervised KH as an MSc (occupational psychology) student (including detailed discussions on drafting of questionnaire, research design), drafted the paper, searched for the literature and analysed the data and wrote the final draft.

  • CA held detailed discussions with CAS about what elements of KH’s MSc are appropriate for conversion into publication, made suggestions for analysis, analysed some elements and drafted of parts of the paper.

  • KH completed all ethics forms in consultation with CAS, attended the ethics meeting, designed questionnaire with CAS, collected data in the organisation, held discussions with CAS throughout the process, and held discussions with CAS about the research literature.