MORE than 600 nurses and midwives at Scotland's largest health board suffered attacks at work in less than three months.

Since the start of the year until March 10, 636 nursing and midwifery staff were subjected to verbal or physical assaults by patients across Greater Glasgow.

The figures released by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) under a freedom of information request show that from July 24 last year until the end of 2013, a total of 1299 nursing and midwifery staff were assaulted.

The number of assaults on other staff groups, both this year and last year, are significantly lower.

So far this year six medical staff have been assaulted, while 14 allied health professionals - such as paramedics - experienced harassment or physical violence.

In the last five months of last year five medics were assaulted. In that same time frame the number for health professionals was 23.

NHSGGC began recording specific information on the number of assaults on staff from July 24 last year.

Some of the attacks described by nursing staff include being pinched, kicked, bitten and spat on, as well as harassment.

One nurse, who asked not to be named, said many assaults went unreported, raising fears of far higher numbers of staff abuse.

She said: "I've been nipped and spat on by patients, but sometimes they throw things at you.

"Confused patients can sometimes call you names and shout things at you.

"A lot doesn't get reported because it can be seen as too much hassle, so it's usually the serious things that only end up being reported."

The figures have been described as "shocking" and "very alarming" by professional bodies.

Anne Thomson, Royal College of Nursing Professional Officer, said: "One assault on a nurse or midwife is one assault too many.

"It's shocking that so many nurses and midwives who care for patients across Greater Glasgow and Clyde are being subject to physical and verbal assaults on a daily basis.

"Unfortunately, however, these findings bear out our own recent survey among nurses across Scotland which found that more than four out of 10 (41.1%) said that they had personally experienced harassment or violence by patients or their families in the last year."

Ms Thomson said being assaulted at work was "totally unacceptable" and said: "Nurses are already under pressure due to staff shortages and increasing demands on their time; they should not have to put up with verbal or physical assaults from those they are caring for or their families.

"Health boards do have policies in place to deal with these distressing situations and must always listen to and support their staff when incidents occur.

"They must also always support them to report all incidences of physical assault to the police."

Emma Currer, National Officer for Scotland at the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM), said: "These figures are very alarming, but there is also a real concern that there are far more incidents which are not being reported.

"When staff come to their work to provide a service they should not expect to face aggression."

Scottish Labour's health spokesman Neil Findlay called for action.

He said: "The number of people causing physical harm to the nursing staff who are there to help them is truly shocking.

"The health secretary, Alex Neil, must work with health boards to ensure that they are properly resourced, and suitable conditions exist to minimise violence in our health system and ensure that those who commit assault are properly prosecuted."

NHSGGC provides services to some 1.2million people and employs 38,000 staff - a quarter of the workforce in NHS Scotland.

A spokeswoman from the board said they took any act of physical or verbal abuse "very seriously".

She said: "All our staff deserve basic courtesy and respect and to be able to work without fear of intimidation, abuse or violence.

"Since the introduction of our violence and aggression policy in 2005 the number of staff now reporting violence towards them has increased and we fully encourage staff in their pursuit of taking the perpetrators of violence against them through the justice system."

Cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing Alex Neil said: "Our staff are the heart of our NHS and they deserve to be treated, at all times, with the utmost respect and courtesy.

"We will not tolerate assaults or abuse of any of our staff, whether physical or verbal.

"I urge any member of NHS staff who find themselves victims of such treatment to report it to management and when necessary to the police. Boards should do all they can to support staff to minimise the risk of assaults and also ensure that staff are trained to deal with situations as they arise."