On Tuesday night, my sister Anna was attacked in her place of work. The photograph to the right shows the bruising and cuts she received when a patient in the hospital in which she works punched her in the face. I have used this photograph with her permission.
In many hospitals, most medical staff no longer consider violent assaults an anomaly, but a day-to-day occupational hazard. In recent weeks, Anna has been scratched, throttled and bitten – quite apart from the diet of vile verbal abuse has been subjected to on a daily basis.
In the majority of cases, NHS staff do not press ahead with prosecutions against violent patients; partly out of recognition that the actions of these drug and alcohol addled patients are beyond their control and partly out of a lack of faith in the criminal justice system to protect them.
Their stoicism, in the face of such abuse, is testament to their selfless nature and absolute commitment to providing their patients with the very best care they can.
No public servant, however – let alone one who works thirteen hour shifts battling to save the lives of the victims of road traffic accidents, unprovoked stabbings and house fires – should be put in this position.
It is a crime in the United Kingdom, under Section 89 of the Police Act 1996, to assault a police officer in the execution of his or her duty. Being found guilty of this offence carries a custodial sentence of up to six months, in addition to any other penalty a court may impose for causing grievous or actual bodily harm on the officer in question.
Parliament should expand the scope of this act to on-duty medical personnel, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, healthcare assistants and other hospital staff who interact with patients.
Not only do we owe it to our overworked, underpaid and so often overlooked NHS staff to protect them from threats in the workplace, but also to send a strong signal that abuse and violence will be met with the harshest of possible consequences under the law.