With more than 230 staff reporting being assaulted between April 2013 and March this year, Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is clamping down on assaults against staff.

Its new Respect Us campaign reminds people that any form of verbal or physical abuse will not be tolerated.

The campaign backs up the message that abusive patients face tough penalties including police prosecution and the refusal of treatment.

It also aims to encourage more staff to report verbal or physical abuse, including rude, intimidating or anti-social behaviour.

Although 232 staff reported being assaulted between April 2013 and March this year, the real figure is thought to be much greater as half of staff who responded to the most recent NHS staff survey said they did not report the last time they experienced abuse at work.

The survey also revealed that in the last year a third of staff who responded had experienced abuse at work from patients, relatives or other members of the public.

Staff at the Great Western Hospital, Swindon, have an in-house security team on hand 24 hours a day, and staff working in the community call 999 if they need support.

Personal attack alarms are also carried by some staff, such as those working in the emergency department, which can be sounded to alert others to an escalating situation.

Receptionist Maureen Bristow has been on the receiving end of frustrated, aggressive and at times violent patients, more times than she cares to remember.

“As people come to the hospital we are their first point of call and we are also the last people they see on the way out,” she said.

“If anything has gone wrong they will take out their aggression on us. We are an easy target.

“People have banged on the desk and I had somebody come out of A&E about 18 months ago come up from behind me and push everything off my desk. It was scary. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“It happens so regularly you think it’s part of the job. But it’s not. When people come to the hospital they should treat staff with respect because they expect respect. Respect is a two-way street.”

Dr Stephen Haig, Emergency Department consultant at the Great Western Hospital has had punches thrown at him, been pinned to a wall and has even had an instrument trolley thrown at him by patients.

He said: “When something like that happens, it just makes you and the rest of the team feel really awful. It makes this job so much more difficult than it already is.

"Our staff come to expect that they will be assaulted at some point, which is fundamentally wrong.

“As doctors and nurses, we are here to help people who are sick and injured and it’s completely unacceptable when the very people we are trying to help are rude, aggressive or violent.

"It’s not only upsetting for staff, but can be distressing for other patients and cause delays.”

Roger Ringham, security specialist for the Trust, said: “Abuse of NHS staff is completely wrong and unacceptable.

"Apart from the immediate impact on the member of staff, the experience or threat of aggression or violence causes stress and sickness absence, lowers morale and drives hardworking and talented healthcare professionals out of the NHS at a time of serious staff shortages.

“Sometimes staff experience assaults which are medically related, but a large number are down to unacceptable behaviour.

"Patients who continue to be abusive despite a warning can be refused treatment and will be referred back to their GP who will need to find them treatment elsewhere.

“This campaign is all about protecting our NHS staff. They are here for us 365 days a year, caring for us when we are at our most vulnerable and when we need them most.”

Further information will be available from the Trust’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.