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Violence against nurses: will harsher sentences for assaults on emergency workers help?

In 2021, the maximum penalty in England and Wales will double to two years in prison

In 2021, new legislation will mean the maximum penalty in England and Wales will double to two years in prison

Picture: Barts Health NHS Trust

Under new legislation due to come into effect in 2021, people who assault emergency workers in England and Wales will face up to two years in prison double the current maximum penalty.

Nursing Standard readers have their say.

Rachel Kent is a mental health nurse in London

Rachel Kent

While I support treating assaults on healthcare staff and other emergency workers more seriously, including harsher penalties, this will only be effective if staff receive support when making a complaint. If a staff member who has been assaulted by a patient is not supported to make

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In 2021, new legislation will mean the maximum penalty in England and Wales will double to two years in prison

Picture: Barts Health NHS Trust

Under new legislation due to come into effect in 2021, people who assault emergency workers in England and Wales will face up to two years in prison – double the current maximum penalty.

Nursing Standard readers have their say.


Rachel Kent is a mental health nurse in London

Rachel Kent

While I support treating assaults on healthcare staff and other emergency workers more seriously, including harsher penalties, this will only be effective if staff receive support when making a complaint. If a staff member who has been assaulted by a patient is not supported to make a complaint because the patient was ‘unwell’ or ‘intoxicated’, the behaviour is excused and the assault downplayed. Without proper support for staff to report an assault and see it through to prosecution, harsher sentences will make little difference.


Drew Payne is a community nurse in London

Drew_Payne

@drew_london

The latest statistics show that of the 9,350 people found guilty of assaulting an emergency worker in England and Wales in 2019, only 1,533 received a custodial sentence. Of these, only one person was sentenced to between six and nine months, with the rest receiving shorter sentences, although the current maximum is one year. What is the point in increasing the maximum prison sentence to two years when only one person so far has received a sentence of over six months? This is all just smoke and mirrors and will do nothing to improve the safety of NHS staff and other emergency workers.


Grant Byrne is a fourth-year nursing student in Edinburgh

Grant Byrne

@GGByrne

No one deserves to face abuse at work, yet violence has historically been seen as part of the job in nursing. In 2018, an RCN report showed that such instances are under-reported by staff, with almost two fifths of nurses opting not to take instances of physical assault further and more than half electing not to report cases of verbal abuse. For some, it was because their patient lacked capacity, for others, it was because they felt nothing would change. If we are to tackle violence in the NHS, we need tackle this view.


Stacy Johnson is an associate professor at the University of Nottingham

Stacy Johnson

@misssdjohnson

Doubling the maximum penalty is a welcome step, but it will not deter some members of the public from assaulting front-line workers. There is a mismatch between the strong message that doubling the maximum sentence sends and the contrasting, derisible prosecution-to-sentencing pipeline. Last year, only one person out of the thousands found guilty of such an assault received a sentence of six months-plus. That’s 0.0089% – in other words, nearly zero; hardly a zero tolerance message. Actual tougher sentencing, not just tougher sentencing legislation, is what is needed.


Readers’ panel members give their views in a personal capacity only

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