Preventing and managing challenging behaviour

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Patients exhibiting challenging behaviour, which includes any non-verbal, verbal or physical behaviour, is a significant issue in healthcare settings. Preventing such behaviour and the harm it can cause is important for healthcare organisations and individuals, and involves following a public health model comprised of three tiers: primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Primary prevention aims to reduce the risk of challenging behaviour occurring in the first instance; secondary prevention involves reducing the risk associated with imminent challenging behaviour and its potential escalation; and tertiary prevention focuses on minimising the physical and emotional harm caused by challenging behaviours, during and after an event. De-escalation should be the first-line response to challenging behaviour, and healthcare staff should use a range of techniques – maintaining safety, self-regulation, effective communication, and assessment and actions – to reduce the incidence of challenging behaviour. In some situations, physical interventions may be required to protect the safety of the individual, healthcare staff and other individuals involved, and healthcare staff should be aware of local policies and procedures for this. Following a serious incident, where there was potential or actual harm to patients and healthcare staff, healthcare organisations should use post-incident reviews to learn from the situation, while healthcare staff should be offered the opportunity for debriefing. Positive responses to challenging behaviour at an organisational and individual level can lead to improved work environments for healthcare staff and optimal patient care and outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51
Number of pages12
JournalNursing Standard
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2018


  • Aggression
  • Assault
  • Challenging behaviour
  • De-escalation
  • Patient safety
  • Safety
  • Violence
  • Violence prevention


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