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April 27, 2008

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Taskforce calls for police in hospitals to curb abuse

Police officers could be stationed in NHS premises in Wales if the Welsh Assembly decides to ratify a recommendation from a taskforce set up to address violence and aggression against hospital staff.

Contained in the taskforce’s interim report, which was submitted at the end of March to the Welsh minister for health and social services, Edwina Hart, the proposal is just one of a huge list of suggested measures aimed at protecting staff.

Other proposals include using the current model that ensures the Police prioritise cases of domestic violence and apply it to incidents of violence in the NHS, and giving victimised staff free access to solicitors.

It also calls for the existing All-Wales Violence and Aggression Training Passport and Information Scheme to be incorporated into all NHS staff training programmes, and has urged the Assembly to accept a business plan for an all-Wales automated alert system designed to protect lone workers.

In England, a new offence of creating a disturbance or nuisance on NHS premises is being introduced as part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. But the Welsh Government opted out, and is pursuing the issue in isolation. Attacking the move, shadow health minister, Jonathan Morgan AM, said: “The Assembly Government’s decision to pursue a Wales-only option on this issue is unacceptable and will inevitably lead to lower levels of protection for NHS staff in Wales.”

In Scotland, measures to extend laws aimed at protecting health staff from abuse came into force on 1 April. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2005 to provide legal protection for doctors, nurses, and midwives who were responding to an emergency, as well as ambulance workers when they were on duty. However, the Act now covers GPs, other doctors, nurses, and midwives working in the community — even if they are not responding to an emergency.

The Scottish Government hopes the changes will resolve the problem of under-reporting of violent incidents in the health sector, and send out a message to offenders that they could face prosecution. Scottish public health minister, Shona Robison, suggested a reason for staff failing to report acts of aggressions was a perception among emergency health workers that dealing with these types of incident ran with the territory.

“It might also have been felt that nothing could be done if a member of staff was spat at, kicked, or abused in the course of their duties,” she explained. “In actual fact, that is not the case — since the introduction of the Emergency Workers Act in 2005, a significant number of individuals has been prosecuted for these types of offences.”

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