Almost one in five members of NHS staff at the North West Anglia NHS Trust experienced physical violence while at work last year, figures show.

The Government has announced new measures to better protect health service staff in England, calling for a “zero tolerance” approach.

Responses to the latest NHS Staff Survey show that 28 per cent of staff at the trust, which manages Hinchingbrooke Hospital, in Huntingdon, as well as Peterborough City and Stamford hospitals, said they had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from patients, relatives, or members of the public in 2017.

Of those, 17 per cent said they had experienced physical violence from patients, relatives or members of the public.

Some 38 per cent of employees at the trust responded to the survey, which also asked workers about incidents of physical violence at work.

Healthcare workers union Unison said that anyone threatening or abusing NHS staff “should be prosecuted”.

Head of health Sara Gorton said: “No one should be abused, threatened or attacked at work - especially when all they're trying to do is help people.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has introduced the first NHS violence reduction strategy, a series of measures designed to safeguard NHS workers against deliberate attacks and abuse.

Mr Hancock said it was “unacceptable” health workers had been subjected to violence and aggression.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that the NHS was partnering with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute offenders quickly under a

“zero-tolerance” approach.

The Care Quality Commission will be scrutinising individual trusts based on their plans to reduce violence against staff and identify those that need further help to protect their employees.

The DHSC also said that a new system for recording assaults, and other incidents of abuse or harassment. Trusts will be expected to investigate incidents thoroughly.

He said that staff will also be provided with better training to deal with violent situations, and mental health support will be made available for victims of assault and abuse.

He said: “I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new violence reduction strategy will be a key strand of that.”

The plans follow the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act earlier this year, which doubled the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from six months to a year.

Across England, 15 per cent of NHS employees experienced violence in 2017, the highest figure for five years.

Director of workforce and organisational development, Louise Tibbert said: “The safety of our staff and patients is paramount and anti-social behaviour of any kind is unacceptable. The trust operates a zero-tolerance approach to both verbal and physical abuse.

“All of our staff are actively encouraged to report incidents through our dedicated reporting system, so that we can ensure our services are as safe as possible and understand where we need to make improvements.

“Processes are in place to support staff who have been subject to abuse and counselling services are provided, and we offer conflict management training to ensure staff are equipped to deal with any challenging situations that may arise.

“This is mandatory for staff in frontline areas, such as the emergency department but is available to all staff. The training provides staff with the skills to assess rapidly changing situations, evaluate the risks to themselves and others, and act in an appropriate manner.”