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November 7, 2008

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Huge rise in numbers punished for NHS assaults

Sanctions against people who commit assault against NHS staff in England have rocketed over the last five years.

Official figures released by the NHS Security Management Service show that penalties against people who physically abuse NHS workers have shot up from 51 in 2002/03 to 992 in 2007/08. The number of sanctions in 2007/08 is also 123 more than the number recorded last year.

In terms of the number of physical assaults, there were 55,993 reported cases in 2007/08 — a rise of 284 from last year’s figure.

The NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service (NHS CFSMS) believes the rise in reporting demonstrates a “shift in culture” with more staff refusing to accept violence as an inevitable part of their job. Head of the SMS, Richard Hampton, said: “For too long NHS staff have been prepared to accept some level of violence or abuse as a part of their job. . . This increase is a flag that shows people are now confident that action will be taken.”

Local security management specialist (LSMS), Will Smith, who manages security at Dorset Primary Care Trust, said: “The appointment of a LSMS has meant that, for the first time, staff have a specific contact point to report security incidents. Our role is to encourage reporting and support staff. In serious cases, I get the Police involved and support staff through the criminal justice system.”

However, public-sector union Unison is concerned that more action should be taken to prevent assaults in the first place. Describing the number of assaults as “shameful”, the group’s head of health, Karen Jennings, said: “What sort of injury do we have to wait for before tough action is taken against violent offenders? Health-care workers are four times more likely to be the victims of assault than any other workers.”

She added: “Many of these assaults are preventable. In some places, that might mean police and security staff working in A&E; in others, [it could mean] staff training, more CCTV, alarms, better coordination between police and ambulance staff, flagging up dangerous areas, or building safety features into hospitals and wards.”

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