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Jail sentences for assaults on NHS staff to double, health secretary to announce

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/10/31/jail-sentences-assaults-nhs-staff-double-health-secretary-announce/

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Jail sentences for those who attack paramedics and casualty nurses are set to double in a bid to tackle record levels of violence against staff.

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, will today announce a “zero tolerance” strategy on violence against NHS staff, as he details plans to speed up prosecutions of those who abuse staff.

Latest figures show that more than 15 per cent of NHS staff have experienced violence from patients, relatives or the public in the last 12 months – the highest figure for five years.

The new strategy means watchdogs will inspect how NHS trusts are following up violent incidents reported by staff, and attempting to protect staff.

Today Mr Hancock will announce the first ever NHS Violence Reduction Strategy.

In a speech to the Royal College of Nursing, he is expected to say: “NHS staff dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for us in our times of greatest need and for any one of them to be subject to aggression or violence is completely unacceptable.

“I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new violence reduction strategy will be a key strand of that.”

Under the plans, the NHS will work with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to make sure victims are supported to give evidence and achieve prosecutions in the quickest way possible.

Trusts will be expected to ensure every incident is investigated in full and lessons learned to prevent future incidents, with national reporting of such data.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

  • An ageing population. There are one million more people over the age of 65 than five years ago. This has caused a surge in demand for medical care
  • Cuts to budgets for social care. While the NHS budget has been protected, social services for home helps and other care have fallen by 11 per cent in five years. This has caused record levels of “bedblocking”; people with no medical need to be in hospital are stuck there because they can’t be supported at home
  • Staff shortages. While hospital doctor and nurse numbers have risen over the last decade, they have not kept pace with the rise in demand. Meanwhile 2016 saw record numbers of GP practices close, displacing patients on to A&E departments as they seek medical advice
  • Lifestyle factors. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, a poor diet with not enough fruit and vegetables and not doing enough exercise are all major reasons for becoming unwell and needing to rely on our health services. Growing numbers of overweight children show this problem is currently set to continue

The new plans come alongside the  Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, which was recently brought into law and will see the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker double from six months to a year.

The RCN welcomed the measures, saying too many nurses faced the threat of violence on a daily basis.

Ambulance chiefs urged prosecutors to use the full extent of the law to protect healthcare workers from abuse.

Martin Flaherty from the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said: “It is a sad fact that almost none of the perpetrators receive custodial sentences when they are prosecuted for assaulting our staff.”

It follows pledges to give paramedics body cameras in a bid to protect them from violent patients.

Ministers said the measures to counter soaring levels of violence would help to prevent crimes against staff and bring attackers to justice.

They said the protection was part of a wider package of support to healthcare workers, including quicker access to mental health help, and physiotherapy.

In an initial pilot, 465 ambulances and their paramedics will be equipped with body cameras, with potential for a full rollout to all such staff, and other workers who suffer threats from patients.