Attacks On Health Staff More Likely To Result In Prosecution After New Deal

People who abuse or assault NHS staff are more likely to be dealt with in court after an agreement between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Crown Prosecution Service. Health Minister Dr Brian Gibbons yesterday said the threat of prosecution was the “ultimate deterrent” to such behaviour.

It is also hoped that the partnership will encourage more staff to report incidents and give them confidence that their complaints will be dealt with. The deal comes just weeks after a law was introduced which will punish assaults on emergency workers with a fine of up to £5,000.

Dr Gibbons, who signed the memorandum of understanding at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, said, “If people behave badly and are not made accountable for their action before the courts of justice, then there is a credibility gap.

“Hopefully this will fill that gap and make it clear to everyone that there is zero tolerance of violence, aggression and abuse against NHS staff here in Wales. This is the ultimate deterrent and the ultimate way of achieving justice for people abused in the NHS.”

It is hoped the agreement with the CPS will form the basis of an effective prosecution policy. It sets out the roles the NHS and CPS would be expected to play in pursuing prosecutions, and also makes sure information would be shared between the two bodies. But it will not replace the work that is already done within the NHS to combat violence – Dr Gibbons described the agreement as an “end of the line” measure,

Sir Ken Macdonald QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said, “The CPS will work with the police to encourage priority action for violence and aggression on NHS staff, and will apply a robust charging policy.”

There are up to 8,000 reported incidences of violence and aggression against NHS staff every year in Wales but many staff opt to stay quiet about attacks because they feel that nothing will be done. Until now only a few cases have led to a prosecution, as the recent Panorama investigation revealed.

Helen Phillips, area business manager for the CPS in South Wales, said a prosecution is pursued only when there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest. In the future, the fact that an NHS staff member has been attacked will satisfy the public interest requirement.

But she added, “The public interest test is very important but we won’t be able to prosecute just because something is in the public interest – we have to have the evidence.”

It is understood that the Welsh Assembly Government will sign similar memoranda of understandings with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Welsh Health Legal Services to further increase prosecutions. Each NHS body will also have a director who is responsible for monitoring and acting on assaults against staff.

Tina Donnelly, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, said, “This is something we have been campaigning for for almost two years. While we realise that this is an end of the line measure, we hope it will act as a deterrent and prevent people treating healthcare workers in a derogatory fashion when all they are trying to do is their job providing care in very difficult circumstances.”

Rob Sainsbury, directorate manager for emergency services at Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust, said, “It is encouraging that the CPS and Assembly Government is supporting the trust further with legal cases. It will send a positive message to our staff.”