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Thursday, 14 October, 1999, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Zero tolerance for NHS violence
Hospital ward
Assaults are common in the NHS
The government is launching a zero tolerance campaign to combat violence against NHS staff.

The initiative has been backed up by a call from the Lord Chancellor for magistrates to take a tough line with offenders.

Posters will go up in hospital accident and emergency departments and staff rooms, and in doctor's surgeries.

They depict X-ray pictures of weapons which have been used against health service staff, including Stanley knives, bottles and syringes.

The posters urge staff to report violence and tell the public that they should not stand by and watch it happen.

Information packs telling managers how to make working conditions safer for staff are also being distributed to hospitals.

The campaign is a joint initiative by the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Health minister John Denham and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine visited the accident and emergency department of University College London Hospital on Thursday to talk to nurses who have been subjected to violence in the course of their work.

Violence is unacceptable

John Denham
John Denham will visit nurses
Mr Denham said: "It is unacceptable that caring NHS staff can be rewarded with intimidation and violence.

"The cost of violence against staff is great. Victims can suffer physical and pyschological pain. Confidence can be irrevocably dented and stress levels rise."

Lord Irvine said attacks against NHS staff were "totally unacceptable" and that health workers should be given the full protection of the law.

He said: "It is entirely legitimate for magistrates to respond decisively to a particular form of criminal behaviour, such as assaults on nurses, and to say 'enough is enough - we won't stand for it any longer', and to impose sentences which have a deterrent component."

One in seven of all reported incidents in the NHS involves physical assault. Nurses, casualty staff, mental health workers and ambulance workers are the most at risk.

Assaults in the NHS are the third most common cause of injury to staff, after falls and slips and needle stick accidents.

Last year 65,000 NHS employees were attacked. For every 1,000 people working for the NHS seven of them are attacked each month.

One in two nurses have suffered

A Royal College of Nursing (RCN) survey carried out last year showed that one in two nurses had been subjected to physical violence or serious verbal assault.

Two-thirds of recorded violent incidents in the NHS are are against nursing staff.

Former Health Secretary Frank Dobson announced in April that annual surveys of violence against NHS staff were to be published in an effort to reduce assaults.

Mr Dobson said that NHS trusts would have to keep tabs on the number of attacks against staff, improve reporting methods to help police catch offenders and set targets for reducing violence.

Under a framework announced last year, health authorities have been advised to reduce attacks on staff by 20% by 2001 and 30% by 2003.

The government made extra money available earlier this year for redesigning accident and emergency departments to make them safer for staff. Hospitals are being encouraged to fit better lighting and closed circuit television cameras and hire security guards.

A RCN spokeswoman said: "Verbal and physical attacks are still a big problem for nurses so it is important for the government to demonstrate to employers, the public and staff that there should be no tolerance of violence against NHS staff."

Safety measures implemented

University College London Hospital has already introduced a number of safety measures.

At least two security guards provide round-the-clock protection in the accident and emergency department, which has also been fitted with CCTV.

Staff are also being issued with personal attack alarms.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford: "Ministers want to create a climate of zero tolerance"
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