MPs debate stronger action against people who attack NHS staff

Assaults on NHS staff in England are on the rise.
Violence against NHS staff

MPs have debated whether to introduce tougher sanctions on people who attack NHS staff.

Picture: iStock

About a dozen MPs attended yesterday’s parliamentary debate on whether health service staff should be offered similar legal protection to police officers under the Police Act 1996, which makes it a specific offence to attack a police officer conducting their duties.

The debate was triggered by an online petition set up as part of radio station LBC’s Guard our Emergency Medical Services campaign (GEMS), which attracted more than 116,000 signatures.

An LBC investigation found that assaults on NHS staff have risen to 193 per day in England. 

Stark facts

Conservative MP for Hertsmere Oliver Dowden, who introduced the debate, said: ‘The raw facts speak for themselves: there were more than 70,000 recorded assaults on NHS staff in England in 2016 – an increase from nearly 68,000 in 2015 and 60,000 in 2004.

‘This problem does not just affect NHS staff working in hospitals and GP surgeries. Concerns have been raised about the safety of lone NHS workers – for example, nurses visiting care homes.’

Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton Liz McInnes, a former NHS biochemist, said any new law should be extended to all roles in the NHS.

She added that there should be a ‘toughening up’ of existing laws to ensure people convicted of assault receive stronger sentences.

Scottish law

The debate heard how, in Scotland, the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 makes it a specific offence to assault, obstruct or hinder someone providing an emergency service. The act, which was updated in 2008, also covers GPs, other doctors, nurses and midwives working in the community.

Scottish National Party MP for Central Ayrshire Philippa Whitford said: ‘Sadly, with some of the reaction after the European Union (EU) referendum last year, we have seen horrific reports of people from the EU who work here – and make up a significant proportion of medical and nursing staff – being abused racially by the people they look after.’

Current framework

Responding for the government, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice Sam Gyimah, Conservative MP for East Surrey, said: ‘Given the current offences framework and sentencing guidance, I am not persuaded that there is a need to create a specific offence for this group of workers.

‘As with any kind of crime, the best and most important solution to violence against NHS staff is to prevent it from being committed in the first place.’

Mr Gyimah also proposed meeting with Mr Dowden to launch an investigation into the profile of those carrying out assaults on NHS staff, and the punishments received.

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