Special report: ‘Clear need’ to protect NHS staff as thousands are attacked at work

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NEW DATA revealing thousands of attacks on ambulance and hospital workers highlight the “clear need” for more to be done to protect frontline staff, the British Medical Association has said.

In the third day of a Yorkshire Post investigation focusing on the abuse of blue light workers, we can reveal the extent of abuse suffered by the region’s NHS staff.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service reported 1,629 physical and verbal attacks on staff in 2016 and 2017, while hospital trusts across the region reported almost 2,000 attacks on medical staff last year alone.

Attacked paramedic: ‘I’ve lost track of the amount of times it has happened’

The data has been complied ahead of the Third Reading of the Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill, which aims to empower judges with greater sentencing options for those who inflict abuse on police, fire and ambulance staff, among others, in the hope of deterring future attacks.

It will also cover police, firefighters, prison officers, custody officers, and search and rescue services.

Read more: Exclusive: MPs urged to get tough on 999 attacks

BMA representative body chair, Dr Anthea Mowat, said more should be done to protect frontline staff and address the “underlying cause of violence”.

She said: “With the NHS coming under significant strain, there is a need for urgent investment to alleviate the current pressures on services and the subsequent increase in waiting times which can lead to greater patient frustration and a greater risk of assault and abuse of workers.”

Deputy Director of Operations at Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Stephen Segasby, said the safety of its employees was “paramount”.

He added: “Ambulance service staff do a difficult job, often in challenging circumstances.

“We welcome the Bill to protect the protectors and hope that it will act as a deterrent, reinforcing our message that there is never an excuse for abusing the people who work so hard to help others in times of need.”

Of the 1,895 attacks on staff working for hospital trusts across Yorkshire last year, 385 were at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust; 306 were at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals; and 251 were at Leeds Teaching Hospitals.

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust said its staff undergo mandatory conflict resolution training and security officers are based in the emergency department 24 hours a day.

It currently sends out around 30 letters a month to members of the public warning them of its “zero tolerance” approach to any abuse or aggression towards staff - and will even ban them from the grounds.

Martin Williams, security investigator at the Trust, said: “Our staff dedicate their working lives to helping the public and deserve to be able to go about their jobs without the threat of violence or fear of abuse.”

Chief nurse at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Professor Dame Hilary Chapman, said the majority of the incidents recorded “are not deliberate attacks on staff”, but a result of a patient’s medical condition.

She added: “We have a zero tolerance approach to any verbal or physical abuse against our staff and take considerable precautions to limit the chances of our staff coming to harm. We do also report such assaults to the police for further action and prosecution.”

Leeds Teaching Hospitals said it takes the safety of its almost 18,000 staff “very seriously”, and worked with police and its security teams to pursue those who assault staff through the legal system. Director of HR at the Trust, Dean Royles, said it had a “significant number” of CCTV cameras, and security staff were also equipped with body cameras to act as a deterrent and provide evidence of an attack.

Staff also have access to training on dealing with aggression and a 24-hour counselling service.

GMB’s regional organiser for the NHS and YAS, Stacey Booth, highlighted the case of ambulance worker in Bradford who was sexually assaulted by a patient in an ambulance in 2016, who is now working with the Trust on ways it can protect and support its staff.

“Things are progressing and we’re getting somewhere,” Miss Booth said. “But we have had paramedics that have been urinated on, headbutted, attacked...it’s a daily occurrence.

“The statistics are stark but in reality there are probably double that number.

“People are leaving the health service because of it. I’ve just had a rep in Goole leave who said he’d had enough - he just couldn’t take the abuse anymore.”

Read more: ‘My children tell me ‘don’t die today’ as I leave for work’

Read more: MP took action after seeing life on the front line for the emergency services

Read more: Tougher sentences ‘help right wrongs’

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