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Last Updated: Monday, 10 December 2007, 14:51 GMT
GP protection 'should go further'
Dr Jackson's surgery
The extension plan follows the stabbing of Dr Helen Jackson
New legislation intended to protect doctors and community nurses from attack has been criticised by trades unions for not going far enough.

Medical staff working in a hospital or responding to an emergency are currently protected by the law.

But the Emergency Workers Act is to be extended so health workers on non-urgent calls are also covered.

The Unison union said the act should be extended further to protect other public sector workers from attack.

Unison's Scottish organiser Dave Watson welcomed the extension, but said it was "very disappointing" that it had not been extended to other non-emergency workers, such as social workers and traffic wardens.

Sadly there are a mindless minority who think it is acceptable to abuse and attack health workers
Shona Robison
Public health minister
Firefighters and police officers are already covered by the legislation.

Mr Watson said: "The act is called the Emergency Workers Act - not the Emergency Health Workers Act - and it was intended to cover all types of public service workers in emergency situations."

He said the union had long argued it should have a wider application, which could include social care workers in residential and home care, education workers in schools, environmental officers tracking illegal dumping, traffic wardens and safety wardens and utility workers.

Mr Watson added: "We hope there will be an opportunity to amend these regulations, to take account of the many people providing our services who need protection from unacceptable threats and violence."

STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said it was right that GPs, nurses and midwives were protected from violence, irrespective of the location in which they work.

Knife attack

But he warned: "This is a missed opportunity to review the effectiveness of the current legislation and, following consultation with trade unions, extend the law to cover all workers.

"While obviously welcoming the extension to the powers of the act we will be asking the Scottish Government why they chose to ignore the views of the trade union movement on this occasion."

The extension of the provisions comes in the wake of a recent knife attack on a GP.

Dr Helen Jackson, 56, was taken to Glasgow's Western Infirmary after the incident in her surgery in the city's Hyndland Road.

A man is due to appear at the High Court in Glasgow on 17 December in connection with the incident.

Taking blood pressure
The legislation does not cover GPs doing non-urgent calls

Announcing the proposals to extend the act, Public Health Minister Shona Robison said: "We owe our NHS staff a huge debt of gratitude for the work they do on a daily basis sometimes in challenging circumstances.

"Sadly there are a mindless minority who think it is acceptable to abuse and attack health workers ignoring the vital service they provide and the terrible impact this kind of behaviour can have on staff morale.

"The brutal knife attack on a GP in her surgery in Glasgow back in August was a shocking incident and highlighted that health workers working in the community are vulnerable."

She added: "This extension to the Emergency Workers Act will provide additional protection for GPs, nurses and midwives working in the community."

The draft order will be debated by Holyrood's subordinate legislation committee.

BMA spokesman Dr Stuart Scott told BBC Radio Scotland that the wider coverage should have been put in place initially.

He said: "It was a bigger problem in the days before GP co-operatives when you had doctors visiting on their own in the middle of the night without back-up or support.

"That was a big risk and that caused a lot of anxiety for a lot of doctors and nurses visiting in the middle of the night because that was when you were most vulnerable.

"Thankfully, these days all out-of-hours visits are usually with a driver and fully supported. In working hours, it's a growing problem as well."

Liberal Democrat public health spokesman Jamie Stone MSP said: "Violence against health and social care workers is unacceptable and a growing concern.

"Extending the Emergency Workers Act to protect NHS employees who work outside hospitals and with non-emergencies is a good first step."

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Emergency service workers' experiences of violence



SEE ALSO
Minister in pledge on GP safety
31 Aug 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Man charged after doctor stabbing
30 Aug 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West

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