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BMA Conference Monday, 2 July, 2001, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
'Being beaten shouldn't be part of the job'
By BBC News Online's Caroline Ryan in Bournemouth

Being beaten unconscious brought home to Dr Robin Arnold just how dangerous his job could be.

The incident happened two years ago when the Bristol consultant psychiatrist went to a local prison to treat an inmate.

Dr Arnold told the British Medical Association's annual conference in Bournemouth: "The patient, I believe, was on amphetamines that he had obtained in the prison.

"He leapt across the desk, beat me about the head, and I was soon unconscious."

The consultation took place without any background information about the inmate, he said, and in an office, a room that was entirely inappropriate.

'Not part of the job'

Dr Arnold said he was re-telling the story to show how poor protection of medical staff was, particularly for those working in mental health.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced last month a policy of "zero tolerance" against people who attack NHS staff.

Violent or abusive patients could be banned from hospitals for a year under new guidelines.

A "yellow card" warning may be issued to patients who commit an act of violence, make an offensive or sexual gesture, or use threatening or abusive language.

A "red card" for a second offence could see them denied treatment if a clinician established their condition was not life-threatening.

But Dr Arnold said: "The government proposals don't address many of the problems.

"It seems to be the attitude that it's part of the job. But it should not be part of the job to be beaten unconsciousness."

Doctors at the conference demanded the government and the NHS do more to address the problem of increasing violence against health service staff.

London-based psychiatrist Dr Jan Wise, said he had expected to come across violent patients when he entered his profession.

Nurse 'lost an eye'


I didn't expect to work in a trust where a colleague could be held at knife point

Dr Jan Wise
But detailing violent incidents that he was aware of in his trust, he said: "I didn┐t know when a nurse went to separate patients, she was going to lose an eye.

"I didn't expect to work with people who were going to tell senior staff they knew where their cars were parked, and their number plates, and threaten them.

"I didn't expect to work in a trust where a colleague could be held at knife point."

Doctors at the conference unanimously voted in favour of more action to tackle violence against healthcare professionals.

They called for:

  • A Department of Health funded education campaign
  • Risk assessments of potentially violent situations
  • More support from trusts in bringing private prosecutions against those who have been violent in the workplace, if no legal case was pursued
  • Punitive measures for offenders
  • Assaults on hospital staff to be treated by the judicial system in the same way as assaults on the police
See also:

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