Scheme launched to increase convictions for assault on frontline NHS staff
Known as Operation Cavell, a London-wide operation has been launched to convict those who assault NHS staff. The initiative will see a senior officer review all reports of assaults and hate crime against NHS staff.
Following a three-month pilot, the National Health Service (NHS), Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have been working in partnership to launch the scheme, which aims to increase convictions and protect NHS staff on the frontline.
As well as senior police officer involvement, senior welfare and support staff within the NHS will be brought on board to help those who have been a victim of such crimes.
A pilot scheme took place across the London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Bromley, Croydon and Sutton between October 2020 and January 2021. It looked at 63 investigations and had a 26.45% charge rate. Before Op Cavell, over a three-month period, 30 NHS and London Ambulance Service (LAS) assaults were recorded and revealed only 6.6% resulted in a charge.
One of the biggest challenges officers and NHS staff face is that many NHS workers feel being assaulted is “part of the job”. Prior to the pilot, 50% of NHS staff in London who were assaulted would not support an investigation whereas the last three months has seen that number drop to 25%.
Last year, SHP reported that the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker would be doubled, following a consultation by Government. It was also announced in April 2020 by Director of Public Prosecutions that Anyone using coronavirus to threaten emergency and essential workers would face serious criminal charges.
In September, a poll of more than 40,000 police officers in England and Wales has said that almost four in ten said they had been assaulted in the last year, while latest government figures show that attacks on firefighters in England have surged by 66% in four years.
Earlier this month, the BBC reported an NHS report that said nearly a quarter of North Yorkshire hospital staff have been abused by patients in the last 12 months. The report showed that 23.5% experienced harassment, bullying or abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, with 3.5% of staff also reporting abuse from colleagues.
London’s Chief Crown Prosecutors Lionel Idan and Barry Hughes said jointly: “Mainstreaming Operation Cavell across London can only be good news for our dedicated frontline NHS workers, who must be able go about their critical work without threat of physical harm or abuse. This strong multi-agency response should leave no one in any doubt about the serious consequences of attacking NHS workers either physically or verbally. CPS London will not hesitate to prosecute those responsible.”
Chief Inspector Luke Mooney, from the MPS, who led the pilot, said: “We are determined to make sure our NHS staff feel confident to report assaults or hate crime. There is no place in society for such abuse. Operation Cavell, in partnership with CPS, will be focussed on ensuring offenders are brought to justice in line with assault on emergency worker legislation.
“Over the past three months alone (Jan-March 21) NHS and LAS colleagues have been punched, kicked, spat at, urinated on, strangled, thrown across a room, had faeces thrown on them and been racially abused.
“Op Cavell was launched to change this during a time where the NHS are facing pressures like never before during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The roll-out will see cases of assault on NHS staff be treated the same way that Operation Hampshire does for assaults on police officers, which has seen charge rates in some boroughs as high as 75%. The process will ensure all crimes are dealt with by specialised and dedicated police investigators.
Martin Machray, Joint Regional Chief Nurse for NHS England & Improvement – London, said: “The last year of the pandemic has shone a light on the selflessness and dedication of NHS staff. All our staff should be able to come into work without fear of violence, injury or abuse. We therefore welcome the rollout of this important initiative across mental health services in London and we hope it will help protect and support our wonderful colleagues.”
Matt Cheyne, Security Site Manager at Croydon Hospital, has also seen a drastic improvement in convictions of those responsible for criminal damage and assault on staff at his workplace.
Matt said: “Sadly we do sometimes see the worst of people. Sometimes whilst in a fit of rage, people can pick up medical bottles or drip stands, even keyboards, and use them to attack our staff.
“Most recently, a male mental health nurse was tending to a lady who became inexplicably hostile and swung her handbag at the nurse. It was shocking and completely unwarranted.
“However, we are pleased to say that we had a new regular patient who has recently been arrested due to Op Cavell. This patient caused around £15,000 of criminal damage, assaulted many of my team and was just generally abusive.
“It took us a while originally to get any form of outcome as at first, as police were trying to secure the facts about whether the patient had a mental health issue, which would obviously change things in terms of securing a conviction. However, following a review, this person was arrested and is now on remand until their court date.
“It was magic! We would very much like to see the op rolled out more widely to support hospital staff.”