A PATIENTS’ watchdog today said it was “only a matter of time” before there was another attack on someone receiving hospital treatment.
The warning from the Scotland Patients Association comes after an 87-year-old man was assaulted by a patient wielding a metal pole.
Frail Philip Rutherford, who suffered a broken hand in the attack, was asleep in the Western General in the early hours of Thursday morning when an agitated patient – believed to have been alcohol dependent – hit him around the head with a pole used to hang drip feeds.
Dr Jean Turner, a former GP and chief executive of the Scotland Patients Association, said she feared staff shortages increased the risk of patient-on-patient attacks.
She said: “When patients with alcohol, drug or mental health issues come into an acute hospital setting it’s important they have the same access to treatment as everybody else, but they do need to be supervised and that’s difficult with the levels of staff.
“If there’s an assault on a patient I wouldn’t expect the staff to intervene – staff should have access to their own ‘999’ system to contact people specifically trained for the situation.
“How many times are patient-on-patient attacks not reported at all?
“If things remain as they are, it is only a matter of time before this happens again.”
Mr Rutherford’s son-in-law, Colin Little, 61, said: “It appears to us that this person who attacked Philip was a ticking time bomb.
“Somebody like that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near other patients.
“I’d expect a hospital like the Western General would already have had this issue taken care of.”
But the medical director of NHS Lothian, Dr David Farquharson, said such attacks were rare.
He said: “We have taken this incident extremely seriously indeed and have assessed the patient, provided appropriate treatment and reported it to the police.
“Incidents of this nature are very rare, however we have a robust training programme for staff in place.
“While it is difficult to predict incidents of this nature, we have increased training, easier reporting systems and clear and established policies.
“These are delivered by a dedicated service, the Centre for Management of Aggression, which is staffed by expert teams.”