Here at KJL, we don’t tend to get political, but when a cause comes along which needs supporting we feel compelled to get behind it. LBC, the London-based radio station, have just started a campaign which called GEMS – Guard our Emergency Medical Services – which is close to our hearts.
Following an alarming new rise in the number of attacks on NHS staff and emergency response teams in the health industry, which is now at 193 attacks per day, there is now a petition to introduce new protection for these personnel. If taken up as law, the proposed changes would see harsher penalties for those who attack health workers and provide a deterrent to future attacks on these critically important providers of health services.
At a time where doctors and nurses are feeling immense pressure to perform beyond the call of duty, we feel it is only fair that in turn they get the respect and increased protection which is so deserved by their dedication to the health of the nation.
“I hope that this campaign will help to make a real difference to reducing the number of serious incidents that all doctors and medical staff are subjected to.
As workloads rise, and staff are under greater pressure from the demands of patients that are harder to meet, the risk that patients take out their frustration on those who are trying to help them increases. The mechanisms must be there to minimise the likelihood of attacks, to support staff who experience them, and to ensure that anyone who commits an act of violence is dealt with appropriately.”
- Dr Mark Porter, Chair of the British Medical Association council
“Health care staff work extremely hard in what are very challenging conditions. It is unacceptable that they are at risk of assault simply by going to work.
This campaign is vital in raising awareness of the dangers NHS staff face – and why wilful assaults must never be tolerated. Nursing staff need to be treated with the care and respect they show patients every day.”
- Kim Sunley, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Royal College of Nurses
“If you assault a police officer, it is a specific offence. It’s time we protect our emergency medical staff in the same way.”
- Nick Ferarri, LBC
What the GEMS Campaign is really about
While this legislation will not completely remove the threat of violence and risk from emergency situations, it will necessarily provide a real deterrent for those who think about attacking health workers. This change is critical to ensuring emergency workers do not leave the industry following fear of attack or serious injury.
It will also empower health workers with the high level of respect and status they deserve while working to protect the lives of others. With this alarming trend on the increase, it seems that this change in legislation is of paramount importance to ensure we have a strong, robust and effective NHS.
What the Law Says about violent threats to public service staff
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, assaults on public services would most likely come under one of the following categories of the 1861 Offences against the Persons Act:
- Common assault – this carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment
- Assault occasioning actual bodily harm – carrying a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment
- Unlawful wounding/inflicting grievous bodily harm (proof of intent not necessary) – carrying a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment
- Wounding/causing grievous bodily harm with intent – carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.
The other piece of legislation that may also apply is the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This act contains the following provisions:
- Harassment – maximum sentence six months imprisonment and/or level 5 fine
- Stalking – maximum sentence six months imprisonment and/or level five fine
- Fear of violence – maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine on indictment
- Stalking involving fear of violence – maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and/or a fine
- on indictment
- Breach of civil injunction – maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine on indictment
- Breach of restraining order – maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine on Indictment
In Scotland all such offences are dealt with under Scottish Common Law (Common Law Aggravation).
Taking a Stand against violence in the NHS
Unison is one of the largest trade unions with 1.3 million members. They primarily represent staff who provide public services. They have released information as to the regulations surrounding workplace violence, threatening behaviour and dangerous working conditions.
“UNISON members expect a “zero tolerance” approach. This means that violence at work is not acceptable and is not part of the contract of employment. This does not mean there are easy simple solutions that can immediately eradicate all attacks on staff. However, some employers appear to see violence as inevitable, unpredictable and therefore uncontrollable.
The risk of work-related violence is often foreseeable, eg where previous incidents have occurred. It can therefore be assessed, minimised or prevented and employers have clear legal duties to do this. In short, employers must make an assessment of the risks, remove those risks and, only where it is not possible, to eliminate them, introduce comprehensive strategies to control them. Violence should not be put down to bad luck, incompetence or the result of individual personalities. It is work related, arising directly out of members’ jobs and the circumstances in which they have to work.
The law: under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees. This applies to risks from violence, just as it does to other risks at work.
In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulations require employers to assess health and safety risks in order to identify measures needed to reduce them. Where the risk of violence is identified it must be eliminated or reduced to the lowest level possible.
Employers must also establish procedures to be followed in the event of serious or imminent danger and provide information and training on the identified health and safety risks and the control measures in place to deal with them.”
- Unison: It’s not part of the job. A health and safety guide on tackling violence at work
High risk lone work in the NHS
One of the highest groups within the NHS are lone workers. While attacks are more uncommon, without support and assistance, situations can quickly escalate if not managed properly. The NHS has provided specific guidance on lone working which you can find here.
They also have a discreet mobile application which can be used when facing a potentially violent or threatening situation.
If you are a lone worker in the NHS and would like more information, please contact the NHS service desk on the details below:
Telephone: 0800 840 7121
If you are not in the NHS but still face threatening situations and would like to introduce and effective solution, there are options available. To discuss this further, give us a call or complete our contact form.