A recovering alcoholic has been handed a 16-week jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, after he assaulted a student nurse.
The incident occurred on 2 December last year, while the defendant, Francis Powell, was an inpatient at Warrington Hospital. The nurse, 24-year-old Emma Cook, was working in a six-bedded bay when she saw Powell trying to leave the area. Concerned that he looked unsteady on his feet, she went over to ask if he was alright and encouraged him to return to his bed. Powell refused, insisting he was leaving the bay for a cigarette, which would have caused him to walk several hundred metres to find an exit so he could smoke outside.
With the nurse continuing to encourage him to return to bed, Powell suddenly grabbed her around the throat. He dug his thumbs into her windpipe so hard that she was unable to breathe, or call out, and pushed her up against a wall. Two of Ms Cook’s colleagues saw the incident and pulled him away, restraining him until security officers arrived. Ms Cook suffered bruising, a sore throat, and was unable to work for several days.
Powell pleaded guilty to assault at Warrington Magistrates’ Court, on 3 March. District Judge Knight told Powell that violence towards NHS staff would not be tolerated and it was usual for such an attack to be punished by a custodial sentence. However, she acknowledged that his medical condition may have had a significant influence on his actions. She also credited him for his early guilty plea, and awarded the nurse £500 compensation.
Ms Cook said: “The attack was very frightening, but I am now determined to continue my career. I am pleased that Mr Powell is recovering from his problems, but I hope he has learnt lessons from the consequences of his actions.”
Every NHS trust is required to employ a local security management specialist (LSMS), whose job it is to promote the security of staff.
Richard Hampton, head of the NHS Security Management Service, told SHP: “Training staff in identifying potentially violent situations and providing them with the skills to de-escalate them is critical to our approach. So too is the message to staff that they do not have to accept violence and abuse as part of the job.”
He continued: “Staff must accept that they have a responsibility to themselves and their colleagues to report incidents and support the prosecution of offenders. This will make it clear to the violent minority that their behaviour is unacceptable. We commend those victims and witnesses who overcome anxiety about going to court, because they are helping all their colleagues by doing so.”
In 2007/08 there were 55,993 reported physical assaults against NHS staff in England, During the same period, sanctions against people who committed assault rose to 992 — an increase of 123 on last year.
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