New national guidelines were published last week that give NHS staff the
power to refuse treatment to violent and abusive patients.
Verbal threats, violence, vandalism and drug and alcohol abuse will all be
grounds for refusing treatment.
However, patients with severe mental heath problems or suffering
life-threatening conditions will not be denied care.
Patients will be issued with a verbal and written warning before treatment
is withheld but if staff are under threat of immediate danger they may make an
on-the-spot decision to refuse treatment.
Sally Storey, former president of the Association of Healthcare Human
Resource Management, said, "I welcome the support that these guidelines
give to staff working on the frontline in difficult circumstances.
But she added that other measures such as training staff in customer care
and looking after people were also important ingredients in reducing violence
Mike Griffin, HR director at Kings College Hospital NHS Trust, told Personnel
Today his organisation had already adopted this approach but he welcomed the
publication of formal guidelines on the issue.
"This is already implicit in the NHS zero-tolerance campaign and it is
absolutely essential. "We will not tolerate any sort of abusive or violent
behaviour towards our staff from whatever quarter," he said.
Health secretary Alan Milburn said withholding treatment is a last resort
under the guidelines but stressed that NHS staff must be protected.
"It is simply deplorable that people who spend their lives caring for
others should face the daily threat of assault.
"Violent and abusive behaviour should not be tolerated in the NHS
whether committed by patients or by their relatives.
"Assault is a crime and the NHS should press for the maximum possible
penalty for anyone who commits a crime against NHS staff."