Hospital Workers (Workplace Safety)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th March 1999.

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Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton 12:00 am, 15th March 1999

What steps his Department is taking to protect NHS hospital workers from criminal attacks at work. [74578]

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

Home Office officials are contributing to a cross-Government working group, led by the Department of Health, developing proposals to tackle the violence that, sadly, hospital workers all too often experience. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires local authorities and police, jointly and in co-operation with the relevant local organisations, including health authorities and trusts, to formulate and implement strategies to reduce crime and disorder in their area. We would expect those strategies to tackle violence against hospital workers where it is identified as a problem.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

Like other hon. Members, I have had complaints from health service workers who have been attacked while on duty. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that partnership is an important approach. Are there any examples of good local practice to tackle this issue of major concern?

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

It is one of the most disturbing and alarming features of our times that public servants, doing a difficult job day in, day out, night in, night out, as hospital workers do, should be subject to such attacks. One in seven of all injuries suffered by NHS staff are directly attributable to acts of violence by patients or visitors to hospitals. That is an indictment of our society, and we must do something about it. I commend the example set in my hon. Friend's constituency, at Halton general hospital, where emphasis is being laid on staff training, giving them the strength to identify risks and, importantly, ensuring that signs throughout the hospital make it absolutely clear that such conduct simply will not be tolerated.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Given that 50 per cent. of nurses have been attacked over the past 12 months and that no less than 47 per cent. have specifically reported being punched, slapped or spat at, can the Minister tell the House now, or inform me later in writing, what proportion of violent incidents in accident and emergency departments are attributable to alcohol abuse?

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point and his statistics, if accurate, are alarming indeed. The abuse of alcohol makes a substantial contribution to violence in accident and emergency departments, and that is why projects such as the one that is being run by the Cardiff violence prevention group are so important. Professor John Shephard has arranged a hotline as part of a strategy to identify the pubs and clubs from which the violence is emanating, and to tackle it at root with the management, the licensing authorities and the police. That strategy stands a good chance of reducing the violence associated with alcohol in A and E departments and, indeed, in some of the sites covered by that violence prevention group, violent assaults have been reduced by 50 per cent. That is an achievement for partnership work between NHS staff, the police and the private sector, and it is such partnerships that will bring those alarming figures down.