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May 21, 2010

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Mentally-ill patient convicted for assaulting nurse

The NHS has secured hospital and restriction orders against a mentally-ill patient who assaulted a nursing assistant at a hospital in Northumberland.

In July 2008, a 31-year-old patient at Northgate Hospital in Morpeth, Maria Dougherty, had a disagreement with a fellow patient. The staff at the hospital defused the situation by escorting Dougherty to her bedroom, but she became increasingly aggressive and began verbally abusing the staff. As she was being moved to a seclusion room she became violent.

Dougherty broke free and pinned a nursing assistant against the wall. She then proceeded to tear out clumps of the victim’s hair, and repeatedly kneed her in the stomach and thigh. The assault lasted for several minutes before staff were able to intervene.

Following an investigation, the NHS Service Management Service (NHS SMS) mounted a prosecution against Dougherty. She appeared at Newcastle Crown Court on 17 May and was issued with a section 37 Hospital Order, which allows her to receive care in hospital rather than face punishment from the criminal justice system. The court also imposed a Section 41 Restriction Order, which stated that she should be detained in care and can only be released with permission from the Secretary of State for Justice.

Head of the NHS SMS, Richard Hampton, was satisfied with the court’s ruling. He said: “It is important for staff to feel safe throughout the NHS and there is a particular concern for those working in mental-health and learning-disability settings, where the majority of assaults on NHS staff take place. This outcome shows that there is no automatic immunity from prosecution for violent individuals who also have mental-health issues, or learning disabilities.”

A spokesman for the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, which manages Northgate Hospital, added: “It’s important to note that while we should never lose sight of the seriousness of assaults, in a mental-health and learning-disability environment people’s challenging behaviour is often a symptom of their illness. Awareness training is given to our staff through the Local Security Management Specialist role for the need for staff to report incidents. €ᄄ €ᄄ

“We train staff in the recognition, prevention and management of violence and aggression and – in cases where staff might be at risk – we have systems in place like state-of-the-art personal alarms.€ᄄ €ᄄ

“Staff safety, at all times, is of paramount importance to the trust and this was reflected recently in our staff survey, which put us in the top 20 per cent of mental-health and disability trusts for staff believing we take action on staff safety.”

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