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Change in the law means longer prison sentences for people who assault nursing staff

Maximum jail term for attacking nurses – including community and district staff – is to double

Maximum jail term for attacking nurses – including community and district staff – is to double

Anyone who assaults nurses will face the prospect of longer prison sentences under a law approved today for in England and Wales.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, which has now received Royal Assent, aims to protect NHS staff, police and prison officers, fire service personnel, paramedics and workers in similar fields.

Tougher penalties

The act doubles the maximum prison sentence from six to 12 months for anyone who assaults an emergency worker. It also means judges must consider tougher sentences for offences such as inflicting grievous bodily harm and sexual assault, if the victim is an emergency worker. The law will come into effect in November.

‘Improved staffing levels, properly funded services and better support from employers would mitigate risk for too many healthcare staff ’

Kim Sunley, RCN national officer

Justice minister Rory Stewart said the government wanted to demonstrate that violence towards emergency workers would not be tolerated.

Wider coverage for healthcare workers

More than 17,000 assaults on NHS staff were recorded from 2015-2016, according to the Ministry of Justice. 

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said: 'From now on, anyone who wilfully assaults a healthcare worker can expect a tougher sentence. Our negotiations have ensured it covers as many healthcare workers as possible, including community and district nurses.’

But Ms Sunley noted that while greater punishments are welcome, factors that put NHS staff at risk will still be present.

Environments where violence escalates

‘These attacks do not happen in a vacuum, and improved staffing levels, properly funded services and better support from employers would help mitigate the risk that too many healthcare staff run day in, day out,’ she said.

The law began as a private member’s bill brought by the Labour MP, Chris Bryant.

He said: ‘Now it is for the prosecuting authorities and the courts to play their part in putting a stop to the violence, so that emergency workers can do their job in peace,’ he said.


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