Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill moves one step closer to becoming law

Bill to impose harsher penalties for assaults and sexual violence against nurses progresses through parliament

Bill to impose harsher penalties for assaults and sexual violence against nurses progresses through parliament

Hospital violence
Picture: Jim Varney

The Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on Friday and will now be examined by the Lords.

If it is made law, the bill would double the maximum prison sentence for common assault to one year if the person assaulted is a nurse or other emergency worker and the offence occurred while they were performing their duties.

The bill covers nurses, police, ambulance workers, prison officers and a range of other emergency personnel, with the aim of reducing violence of all kinds against those working in these professions.

Harsher penalties in court

Crimes more serious than common assault such as grievous bodily harm, kidnapping and sexual assaults, where a nurse or other emergency worker is harmed would attract harsher penalties in court because attacking an emergency worker would be considered an aggravating factor.

The RCN has supported the bill through the Commons and national officer Kim Sunley vowed to keep pushing parliament to make it law.  

‘This bill is a significant step towards stamping out violence against nurses, and it is gratifying that MPs have recognised that wilful assaults and sexual violence against healthcare staff should attract severe punishment,’ she said.

‘We will keep the pressure up as the bill makes its way through the Lords.’

High-pressure environment

However, Ms Sunley said the government must takes steps to change the high-pressure environment that contributes to these assaults.

‘These attacks do not happen in a vacuum and the RCN will continue to work with MPs to secure the best result for our members,’ she said.

‘Improved staffing levels, properly funded services and better support from employers would help further mitigate the risk that too many healthcare staff run day in, day out.’

The bill is a private members' bill put forward by Labour MP Chris Bryant. Such bills are given limited parliamentary time for debate and discussion.

Assuming too much

In the reading on Friday, Mr Bryant said health professionals had suffered for too long from an idea that violence was a natural part of their work environment.

‘There is an assumption that a mental health nurse should put up with a certain amount of physical violence,’ he said. ‘I simply do not accept that.’

The bill has had a broad range of support in the Commons, with Conservative MP Michelle Donelan also speaking in its support on Friday.

Quoting a 2017 RCN survey, Ms Donelan said the level of violence in the NHS was scaring off potential nurses.

‘A survey by the RCN found that 47% of its members who had been physically assaulted would not recommend a nursing career,’ she said.

‘That is the last thing we need when we are looking to recruit more nurses and doctors.’

Assaults on the rise

Earlier this year, a Unison report found physical assaults on health workers including nurses were on the rise, and a Nursing Standard investigation found nurses working alone had been in hundreds of incidents of assault and sexual violence.

If you have been impacted by the issues raised in this story, support is available through the RCN counselling service which can be contacted on 0345 772 6100.

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