Call for protection laws despite rise in NHS assault prosecutions

NHS staff in England and Wales need more legal protection against assault, according to unions.

New statistics from the Department of Health show that in 2004-05 there were 759 successful prosecutions, compared to 51 the year before. But despite the rise, the number is still dwarfed by the most recent figures of verbal and physical abuse reported by NHS staff from 2002-03, which showed 116,000 reported incidents.

Unison, which represents 1.3 million public sector workers, said staff should be protected by laws akin to those used to protect police officers. ‘Assault on a police officer’ carries more severe penalties than normal assault under the Police Act 1996.

The Scottish Parliament has already introduced The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act to create a specific offence of attacking an emergency worker.

Jon Restell, chief executive of Managers in Partnership, the trade union for health service managers, said attempts by the Department of Health to reduce attacks were working, but that new laws in England and Wales would be helpful.

“Prosecutions are a tool which could be strengthened by placing an assault on a NHS employee on the same level as an assault on a police officer,” he said.

However, the NHS Security Management Service, the body charged with cutting assaults on staff, said that a new law would be unhelpful.

“These figures show that substantial improvements in the prosecution rate can be made with existing legislation,” a spokesman said. “Another offence may prove to be less flexible and comprehensive than the current legislation.

“Rather than finding one cure for violence against staff, it is important that we focus on comprehensive reporting of incidents, thorough investigation and working more closely with the police,” the spokesman added.

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