NHS ordered to take action over hospital assaults

Last yere there were more than five attacks daily on NHS staff. Picture: Gareth Easton
Last yere there were more than five attacks daily on NHS staff. Picture: Gareth Easton
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Health chiefs have been told to take urgent action to address a rising tide of violence in hospitals and medical centres.

The Evening News can reveal that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has stepped in and taken the severe step of slapping a formal improvement notice on NHS Lothian, related to violence and aggression against staff and members of the public.

It also emerged today that the health board is to be hauled before the courts next month, in a case relating to an assault on a member of staff in 2009.

NHS Lothian, which could be prosecuted again if it does not comply with the conditions of the improvement notice, is braced for heavy fines given the “serious nature” of incidents currently being investigated by the HSE.

Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “The HSE do not serve these improvement notices lightly. It’s important that a clear message is sent out that staff working in the NHS are not put at risk as they care for patients.

“NHS Lothian needs to take a look at the circumstances behind assaults and make sure that people are safe when they are in NHS hands.”

Last year, the News revealed that on average, more than five attacks every day were being launched on NHS workers by the people they were trying to help. In addition, there are as many as 800 patient-on-patient attacks every year.

Health bosses said then that they did everything possible to protect staff from assaults.

But the fact that the HSE – which in most cases offers advice rather than taking formal action – has issued an enforcement notice suggests it believes more should be done. It is the first HSE improvement that NHS Lothian has received on any issue in two years.

David Forbes, a Lothian Unison official in the NHS, said a “zero tolerance” approach must be adopted to physical violence in hospitals.

“Clearly, any level of violence against people trying to do their job is unacceptable,” he said. “The union supports all moves to reduce and eliminate any attacks. Usually, there is a strong correlation between attacks and staffing levels.”

The HSE refused to release the exact content of the enforcement notice, although it is expected to be made public soon.

NHS Lothian will answer charges in Haddington Sheriff Court on September 4. It is alleged that the health board should have done more to prevent an attack on a staff member in a community setting and that there were unacceptable delays in the reporting of the incident.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “A report relating to the circumstances surrounding an assault upon an NHS employee in November 2009 was submitted by the Health and Safety Executive to the Health and Safety Division of COPFS. It would be inappropriate to 
comment further at this time.”

It is understood that NHS Lothian have put measures in place to comply with the improvement notice.

Alan Boyter, NHS Lothian’s HR director, said that the health board’s risk register had also been updated to reflect prosecution potential. He added: “We have a duty of care to our staff to ensure they are protected from harm while at work and are committed to improving the health and safety arrangements for staff at every opportunity.”

History of violence

THE Evening News has previously told of shocking cases of violence in the region’s hospitals.

A little more than two weeks ago, frail Morag Simpson was assaulted by another dementia patient as she lay in her bed in Ferryfield House, where she has been an inpatient for eight years.

Her son George said not enough was done to protect his defenceless mum, 85, who is paralysed down one side of her body. She suffered heavy scratches to her face and neck.

In October last year Philip Rutherford, an 87-year-old war veteran, was assaulted at the Western General Hospital by a patient wielding a metal pole. He suffered a broken hand as a result of the attack.