Govt Pledges Zero Tolerance on NHS Staff Assaults

Peter Russell

October 31, 2018

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out details of the first ever NHS violence reduction strategy aimed at protecting healthcare workers from aggression in the workplace.

Offenders will be prosecuted more speedily, and staff will receive training in how to deal with violent situations.

Thousands of assaults take place on NHS premises each year. The British Medical Association (BMA) said the problem was growing, with 70,555 assaults on NHS workers in the year to March 2016 compared with 59,744 in 2011-12.

The most recent NHS staff survey showed that more than 15% of NHS employees have experienced violence from patients, their relatives, or the public in the last 12 months – the highest figure for 5 years.

Aggression 'Completely Unacceptable'

At an event hosted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Mr Hancock promised a zero-tolerance approach to assaults on healthcare workers. He said: "NHS staff dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for us in our times of greatest need and for any one of them to be subject to aggression or violence is completely unacceptable.

"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.

"We will not shy away from the issue – we want to empower staff and give them greater confidence to report violence, knowing that they will see meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system."

Violence Reduction

The new violence reduction strategy would include:

  • The NHS working with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to speed up prosecutions

  • The Care Quality Commission (CQC) scrutinising violence as part of their inspection regime and identifying trusts that need extra support

  • Improved training for staff to deal with violence, including circumstances that involve patients with dementia or mental illness

  • Prompt access to mental health support for staff who have been attacked or assaulted

New Law on Assaults on Emergency Workers

A new law designed to protect healthcare staff in England and Wales from assault is due to come into force soon. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which received Royal Assent last month, means it will become a specific offence to assault emergency workers, including those providing NHS health services or supporting NHS health services.

The new offence would double the maximum sentence from 6 to 12 months in prison for anyone found guilty of attacking or assaulting an emergency worker.

The new law would also mean that judges must consider tougher sentences for a range of other offences – including grievous bodily harm (GBH) and sexual assault – if the victim was an emergency worker.

'More Work to Be Done'

The RCN said the new law was a "first step" towards improving safety for healthcare workers from A&E departments to community services.

However, Kim Sunley, RCN national officer, said there was still more work to be done. "These attacks do not happen in a vacuum, and improved staffing levels, properly funded services and better support from employers would help further mitigate the risk that too many health care staff run day in, day out."

The BMA said the violence reduction strategy would send a clear message that it was unacceptable to assault healthcare workers. Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, chair of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said: "The BMA has long been concerned about the risk and impact of violence on NHS staff and is particularly concerned by the rising numbers of attacks taking place against frontline staff.  

"In an NHS environment where workloads and waiting times are rising, staff are already under greater pressure, leading to the risk that unwell patients or their loved ones can become more frustrated. 

"However, it is not acceptable to choose to take that frustration out on those who are trying to help."


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