Government announces measures to tackle attacks on NHS staff
The National Health Service (NHS) will work with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) under new government plans to better protect staff in England from attacks by patients and the public.
Last week Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, launched a “zero tolerance” strategy on violence against NHS workers.
The new partnership between the health service, the police and the CPS is part of this. It aims to help victims give evidence and to bring offenders to justice more swiftly.
According to the latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care, more than 15% of NHS workers have experienced violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the past 12 months – the highest figure for five years.
The new strategy will see the Care Quality Commission scrutinise NHS trusts’ procedures for dealing with violent incidents and those that need extra support to protect their employees will be identified.
A new reporting system will enable workers to record assaults, abuse or harassment more easily. Trusts will be expected to investigate every incident and ensure lessons are learned.
There will be improved training for staff to deal with violence, including incidents involving patients with dementia or mental illness, and the provision of mental health support for those who have been victims of violence.
Hancock announced the first ever NHS Violence Reduction Strategy in a speech to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
He said: “I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new strategy, created together with the Social Partnership Forum, will take a zero-tolerance approach to attacks and assaults against our staff.
“We’re working with NHS providers to develop a new way of recording assaults and other incidents of abuse or harassment. That way we can better understand the scale of the problem and the solutions we need to devise, because a ‘one size fits all’ approach isn’t going to solve this.
“We know that while paramedics may face the greatest danger from drunk young men at kicking-out time on a Friday or Saturday night, that isn’t true for a nurse in a mental health trust where most violent incidents occur between 10 and 11 in the morning. Or in the acute sector, where those most likely to be responsible for assaults are aged 75 or over.”
The new plans come less than two months after the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act was brought into law, which saw the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker double from six months to a year.
RCN national officer, Kim Sunley, said: “These measures are another way to change this [physical violence] for good by increasing the accountability of employers for the safety of their staff and ensuring those who wilfully assault health care workers feel the full force of the law.
“Victims of assault at work have their lives turned upside down and it affects their wellbeing, their families and their livelihood. There’s always more we can do to support them.”
Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers, said: “Employers know that different causes of violence require different solutions – and we know that investment in training and support will make a real difference.
“We look forward to working in partnership with our trade union colleagues through the Social Partnership Forum to develop additional solutions to the different causes of violence to ensure that our staff can feel safe and supported at all times.”
Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison and Social Partnership Forum staff side chair, added: “It is encouraging that the government has listened to unions and agreed to review measures in place to ensure staff safety […] Anyone who threatens or abuses NHS staff should be prosecuted under the new law protecting health care workers.”
Earlier this year the government announced that 465 ambulances and their paramedics would be equipped with body-worn cameras as part of a pilot scheme to reduce the number of violent attacks against them.
Keeley Downey is assistant editor of IOSH Magazine