Any violence against NHS staff is totally unacceptable. The NHS constitution pledges a safe working environment, free from violence, for staff. Historically, we worked in a culture in which we were not encouraged to report violence. We are pleased that our culture is now much more open, and that staff are now encouraged to report such incidents. Training is a matter for individual trusts, and training is given. That is important, but we also need to send a clear message to anyone who tries to assault our staff that we will seek to prosecute them. From April, we shall record the figures in such a way as to give the trusts access to them more quickly and more easily, so that we can monitor the trusts and assist in any training that is required.
Of course, anything that can be done, and any way of improving the collecting of information, is important. The reality is, however, that it is totally unacceptable for the hard-working staff of the NHS to have to suffer attacks. What can we do to protect them, and what more can we put in place in the form of people and security measures? We should not tolerate this situation; we should be doing more about it. I look forward to my hon. Friend's answer.
Absolutely; I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Each trust and primary care trust has responsibility as an employer for its employees, and different areas of work will require different measures. Security guards are employed in some areas, and police officers have a function in hospitals. We have also introduced new powers to remove from hospital premises anyone-including those who have accompanied patients-who is causing a nuisance or disturbance and diverting staff from carrying out their duties. This new offence could lead to a fine of up to £1,000. We want to give the strongest message that our NHS staff must be protected at all times.
The whole House will agree that any assault on NHS staff is abhorrent, and that the full force of the law should come down on the perpetrators. The fact that 54,000-plus assaults on staff took place in 2008-09 is fundamentally wrong. However, the Minister's warm words about prosecution fall flat when we consider that only 1.3 per cent. of assaults on NHS staff result in any form of criminal sanctions. Why are so many people getting away with assaulting our NHS staff? Why is the full force of the law not coming down on them?
The hon. Gentleman is right to show his concern, but it is not for us to prosecute such cases; it is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service. We do everything in our power to encourage such prosecutions to be brought, however-for example, we do everything we can to encourage evidence to be produced. We also want to prevent such assaults, and train people to prevent them.