Staff at Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals are being physically and verbally abused at work with alarming regularity, according to a report released yesterday.

One in ten staff working at the hospitals were assaulted by patients or their relatives last year, while a quarter were bullied, harassed or abused in other ways.

The findings were revealed in a report by the Healthcare Commission (HC), the Government's health watchdog, based on a survey of staff in every NHS trust in the country.

Councillor Linda McFadyen, deputy leader of Barnet Council's Labour group, works as a nurse in central London and said the findings would be no surprise to anyone who works for the health service.

"Front-line staff are subject to physical or verbal abuse and they shouldn't have to put up with it," she said.

"What I find disturbing is that quite a lot of nurses are not reporting these incidents."

The British Medical Association (BMA), the trade union for doctors, published the findings of its own survey of members in January, which suggested a surge in violence towards medical staff and a culture of under-reporting.

A spokesman for the BMA said: "We certainly recognise this problem. One in ten had been physically attacked, including being kicked and spat at, and the under-reporting shows the extent of the problem.

"Our doctors told us that patients most frequently became abusive because of frustration caused by protracted waiting times or having medication refused."

In the BMA survey half of all doctors said violence in the workplace was a problem and found women more likely to experience violence than men.

Leigh Marsden is a former police officer who works at Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals as a security specialist, attending wards and departments where patients are causing problems.

He said: "A face-to-face with the aggressive patient can sometimes work wonders. The ward sisters are always involved and are great. We always liaise with the staff affected and take their views into account.

"I would not pretend that this works perfectly on all occasions but we are doing what we can.

I am sure that the issues are under-reported but we are making inroads to reassure staff and deal with this."

At the Royal Free Hospital, in Hampstead, nine per cent of staff were assaulted last year, compared with the national average of 12 per cent.