The danger awaiting emergency services

Ambulance
crews are putting themselves at risk every time they respond to a 999 call.
With violence in the NHS predicted to increase, what are trusts doing to fight
back? Paramedic Simon Spencer has been having weekly counselling sessions but
he has still had problems sleeping since he was stabbed after responding to a
999 call.

Spencer,
who has been a paramedic for 10 years, had to have 36 stitches following a
knife attack a month ago at a flat in east London at 3am. He is still off work.

Such
attacks are increasingly common according to a new survey by Health Service
Report, which shows violent and aggressive incidents against health service
staff increased by 22 per cent last year (News, 30 January).

Wendy
Foers, director of human resources for the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust,
said that on average there is an attack on a member of LAS staff every day.

She
said, "We are increasingly concerned about the number of attacks on our
crews. It can range from a push to something serious like the stabbing that
happened to Simon.

"We
encourage staff to report all incidents and there has been an increase in
reports, but I do think there is also an increase in the number of incidents
our staff are exposed to.

"We
will be recruiting 400 staff next year and we want to be able to advertise
without people thinking they may well be at risk."

London
Ambulance Service is developing a number of measures to try to help protect
staff. One of these is its No Excuse publicity campaign aimed at raising public
awareness of the problem. It may also include teaching breakaway techniques,
providing protective equipment such as stab vests and identifying addresses
where there is a known risk of violence.

The
ambulance service is also trying to forge closer links with the Metropolitan
Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure action is taken against
people who attack paramedics.

The
survey reveals that NHS trusts have responded to the increase in violence
against its staff by introducing a variety of measures to combat the rising
level of violence and aggression.

Four-fifths
of those surveyed have installed CCTV, nearly three-quarters now employ
security guards and 73 per cent have controlled access to certain areas. One
trust even employs a "management of aggression" adviser to
continually monitor levels of workplace violence.

Keith
Johnston, HR director for North Bristol NHS Trust, said, "Anecdotally it
would appear that there is a higher incidence

of
violence and aggression, although the figures may say more about the raised
profile of violence and aggression as a result of better reporting."

Johnston
added that all NHS trusts have a zero-tolerance approach to violence and
aggression against their staff. North Bristol NHS Trust has installed CCTV in
its car parks and some public areas, and staff have been offered attack alarms.
It also employs security guards who are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a
week.

Gary
Theobald, personnel manager for the Basildon and Thurrock General Hospitals
Trust, said, "Although the number of violent incidents across our trust
have reduced over the past year, the incidents that are happening are more
worrying."

Mike
Griffin, HR director for Kings College Hospital NHS Trust, said the survey’s
figures reflect the trust’s own statistics. He thinks the increase indicates
improved reporting of violent and aggressive incidents rather than an actual
increase in numbers.

He
said, "I am expecting to continue to see a rise in the level of reported
violent and aggressive incidents as we encourage people to be less willing to
put up with that sort of behaviour."

The
occupational health adviser with the Royal College of Nursing, Carol Bannister,
is pleased that trusts are acting positively to try to protect their staff.

She
said, "I would hope if you look at the same survey in less than two years’
time we would start seeing a reduction in this type of incident as the results
of good practice start to kick in."

By
Ben Willmott

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