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RCN backs potential law change to protect health staff from violent assault

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has backed a potential change to the law that is being debated in Parliament today to protect hospital workers from assault, arguing that it would act as a “powerful deterrent” to staff being targeted for violence.

The measures, which are being debated by MPs this afternoon, would make attacking a hospital worker a specific offence, and would mean offenders could be prosecuted for a similar charge as assaulting a police officer – which carries a harsher sentence.

The debate came about after a petition to make assaulting medical staff a specific offence gained almost 117,000 signatures on Parliament’s website.  

In a survey, the RCN found that 56% of its members had experienced physical or verbal abuse from patients, whilst a further 63% had received abuse from relatives of patients or members of the public.

The figure comes just a few months after a report from NHS Protect found that there had been a 4% rise in physical assaults against healthcare workers in England, going up from 67,864 in 2014-15 to 70,555 in 2015-16.

Speaking about the possible change to the law, Kim Sunley, RCN senior employment relations adviser, said: “A specific law would have a powerful deterrent effect, and may go some way towards increasing the number of criminal sanctions against those who wilfully assault nursing staff.”

Sunley also warned of attacks not just in A&E departments, but also across different sectors of the NHS.

“Assaults do not just happen in emergency settings. Nurses working in mental health units or out in the community are also at risk,” she explained. “Some are left traumatised, with many having to take time off work to recover, both emotionally and physically. Some leave nursing altogether no longer willing to accept such abuse.

She also made a point of the price of these attacks, pointing out that they cost the NHS around £69m a year through staff absence, loss of productivity and additional security.

“That’s the equivalent of 4,500 nurses,” added Sunley.

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