A new strategy has been launched to achieve a zero-tolerance policy on violence against NHS staff, the health and social care secretary announced today.
Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Matt Hancock revealed a series of measures, including a new partnership between NHS England and the police, designed to better protect NHS staff against violence and encourage them to come forward and report attacks.
This comes after a new bill – the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) – was brought into law last month, increasing the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from six months to a year.
The new measures include:
- A partnership between NHS England, police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure staff report violence in order to ‘quickly’ prosecute the offenders.
- CQC inspectors to ‘scrutinise’ NHS trusts’ anti-violence measures and identify organisations that need additional support.
- Better training to help NHS staff deal with violent situations, especially those involving patients with dementia and mental health issues.
- Rapid mental health support for those who have been on the receiving end of violence.
‘Any attack is an attack too many’
Mr Hancock said: ‘It beggars belief that anyone could even think of attacking a nurse, or a doctor, paramedic or emergency worker of any kind, as they go about their jobs of public service. Any attack on a nurse, or an emergency worker, is an attack too many.
‘It is absolutely right that anyone who assaults an emergency worker faces tougher penalties and longer prison sentences. Because an assault on you is an assault on us ‒ and we will not tolerate it.
The latest NHS staff survey, published in March, showed that 15% of staff had been the victim of physical violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the previous 12 months.
According to NHS Protect, a former division of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, there were 70,555 assaults on NHS staff in 2015/16 compared to 59,744 in 2011/12, an 18% increase.
‘Make a real difference’
BMA junior doctors committee chair Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya said ‘tougher sentences’, especially for attacks on emergency service workers, ‘will make a real difference’ in reducing the number of serious attacks.
He added: ‘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.’