Anger at shocking rise in nurse attacks

Wednesday, 2 May, 2007

MORE than 3,600 NHS staff were physically attacked or abused in the eastern region in just one year - sparking calls for harsher punishments for those responsible.

New figures reveal 2,508 staff were physically assaulted in the former Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority area in 2005/2006. This compares with a 2,343 the previous year - a jump of 7%.

And experts fear the numbers may be far higher because many staff don't report incidents.

In Essex during the same period the number of attacks fell from 1,286 to 1,142.

Yvonne Cleary, secretary of the Suffolk branch of Unison, said: 'We want tougher penalties for perpetrators. As well as criminal action being taken they should look at threatening to withdraw services from the patients concerned.

'The problem seems to be they have the policies but they are not acted on. There has been a culture of under-reporting because people feel there's no point in reporting if nothing is going to happen.'

Neil McKay, chief executive of East of England Strategic Health Authority, said tougher penalties were currently being drawn up.

He said: 'Any violence or abuse against NHS staff is a disgrace. We entirely agree that these figures are completely unacceptable, as is any single attack against any member of NHS staff.

'We take offences of this kind very seriously and have invested heavily in recent years in new security staff, CCTV technology and training for staff to try and deal with the problem.

'The NHS is also working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers to drive down assaults and ensure tougher punishment for offenders, which has led to a large increase in prosecutions over the last three years.'

He said perpetrators could also face a £1,000 fine and NHS bosses will have the power to remove individuals from the premises.

He added: 'The message to staff is that we are on your side, and to all those who commit these offences, you will not get away with it.'

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said: 'These new House of Commons figures make alarming reading.

'One attack on a member of our hardworking NHS staff is one too many and I will be making enquiries at the highest level to establish just what is being done to protect staff at the region's hospitals.'