Hospitals Hand Out Stab Vests

NHS staff across Wales are being kitted out with stab-proof vests to protect them from violent patients. More than 7,500 incidents of physical and verbal abuse are reported in Welsh hospitals every year, averaging an attack on doctors and nurses every two hours.

A number of Welsh NHS trusts are fighting back by equipping security staff with police-style body armour to protect them on the frontline. The move comes as a number of hospitals across Britain are supplying their staff with stab vests, crash helmets and even riot shields.

In Wales, only two of our 12 NHS trusts currently provide their security staff with heavy duty stab-proof vests. They are North East Wales NHS Trust – which runs the Wrexham Maelor Hospital – and the Conwy & Denbighshire NHS Trust.

Private security staff who patrol the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend – run by the Bro Morgannwg Trust – also wear them.

But Wales on Sunday has learned a number of other Welsh trusts are preparing to follow suit.

The Royal College of Nursing Wales says the measures are a “sad sign of the times”. Its spokesman said: “Hospitals used to be safe places but they are becoming increasingly dangerous. However, the fact that stab-proof vests are being issued to security staff at hospitals across Wales is a good thing. It’s for the benefit of patients and nursing staff.”

NHS workers’ union chiefs argue it is right more hospitals across Wales are taking preventive action against patients who take knives and weapons into A&E departments.

Last year, a student nurse was stabbed in the back by a patient in a secure psychiatric hospital that treats criminals, run by Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust. The attack led to a review of safety procedures at Bridgend’s £14m Caswell Clinic following the assault, which left the 35-year-old nurse needing hospital treatment.

Dave Galligan, Unison’s head of health in Wales, said: “It becomes almost the norm at some places at some times. You can’t walk through a hospital without seeing signs saying violence, threats and abusive behaviour will not be tolerated. But in my view, it is.”

Leading the fightback against violent patients is the Cardiff & Vale NHS Trust, which is now seeking to issue stab-proof vests to staff.

A Trust spokesperson said: “The safety of our staff and patients is paramount. Our security staff are trained in dealing with violent confrontations, and the trust is currently looking into whether it would be beneficial to supply them with stab vests. Although there haven’t been any stabbing incidents in the trust, there are some occasions where patients or visitors bring weapons into hospitals with them, and the stab vests would be a precautionary measure only.”

The issue is also being explored by Pembrokeshire & Derwen NHS Trust, which runs Withybush General Hospital in Haverfordwest and St David’s Hospital in Carmarthen.

Swansea NHS Trust is also looking at ways to improve safety as is Conwy & Denbighshire NHS Trust, whose health and safety manager Phil Townson said: “The Trust is aware that some inner-city hospitals in other parts of the country have had to review the level of protection to their staff based upon the number and magnitude of violent incidents that staff have had to endure.

“Extremely violent incidents are thankfully extremely rare in our hospitals, however the trust has issued stab vests to security guards as a precaution but has no plans currently to extend this to other staff or to issue riot shields. Security remains a high priority and is constantly under review and assessment and changes would be made if circumstances required it.”

Despite the tough action, NHS trusts covering Pontypridd, Gwent, Ceredigion North West Wales, North Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire have no similar plans.

But every Welsh trust is constantly updated by the Assembly Government on what should be done to protect staff.

A spokesman said: “The Assembly Government has issued guidance to both trusts and GPs on what they can do to reduce the problem and protect staff and other patients. Violence not only carries obvious injury and distress to staff, it also stops patients being treated and leads to increased sickness absence and poor morale.

“Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff and that where there may be a risk this must be assessed, documented and staff given adequate information and support.”