Comment: Firm policy needed on hospital violence

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A CRITICAL requirement of our hospitals is that they are places of safety where patients and staff
 alike can concentrate on professional care and well-being.

But this basic need is being put in jeopardy by the thoughtless and irresponsible behaviour of a few.

As we report today, hospital staff in Lothian have been subjected to more than 3500 physical attacks during the last two years. Physical attacks have soared by more than two-thirds at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the year to March, and at St Johns’ Hospital in Livingston, the number of violent incidents has soared by 48 per cent.

It is a dreadful catalogue of unacceptable behaviour, which almost certainly has its roots in wider behavioural problems associated with alcohol abuse across the community as a whole.

It almost beggars belief that hospital staff, often dealing with life or death emergencies and problems of the critically ill, should have to be subjected to this appalling behaviour.

Morningside psychiatric facility the Royal Edinburgh still reports the highest figures. Police or hospital security were called to 893 incidents of staff being attacked physically or verbally within the last year.

Local officials of the Unison trade union have condemned the assaults and urged a policy of zero tolerance towards violence. And NHS managers have spoken of the need for a robust system for the reporting and monitoring of incidents. They also point to specific training for staff “to equip them with the skills and competence to deal with and de-escalate difficult situations and avoid harm”.

All these are essential in dealing with such outbreaks. And matters can be complicated when those seeking medical attention are themselves “the worse for wear”.

But a firmer policy response is surely now needed. This would require more forceful intervention by the police, the arrest of those responsible and stiff sentences handed down by the courts.

Such a policy would of course need to take account of the medical condition of offenders and 
relevant psychiatric reports.

But our hospitals should be places of sanctuary and safety – and assaults on staff, verbal as well as physical, should be most firmly dealt with.