Nobody should be the victim of any attack for doing their job, not least our hardworking NHS staff, who do so much to care for people across the country. We have been very clear that health boards must take appropriate action against anyone who assaults a staff member. That will include criminal proceedings when that is appropriate, but such matters are always for the Crown. Any violence or aggression towards NHS staff is unacceptable, which is one of the reasons why we extended the provisions in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 to give legal protection to all NHS Scotland staff.
I am in total agreement with the First Minister’s comments. Our NHS and public service staff work extremely hard to look after us in our hour of need but, increasingly, they face threats. Since 2014, Scottish NHS boards alone have had to spend an extra 40 per cent on private security. NHS Lothian has spent almost £7 million on private security contractors since 2014. Does the First Minister agree that it is unacceptable that our NHS boards, which are in financial difficulty, are having to spend increasing sums on private security?
Yes, I do. The message that should come from all of us, in a united fashion, is that any attack on any member of our NHS staff is absolutely unacceptable, and we should have zero tolerance of such behaviour.
The 2005 act, which was passed initially under a previous Administration, was extended when I was health secretary. We extended the provisions of that act, which provided legal protection to ambulance workers, doctors, nurses and midwives who were working in a hospital or responding to an emergency, to cover health service staff even when they are working in the community.
The legal protections are there and the penalty can involve a jail sentence, a hefty fine or both, but the message that should come from all of us is that anybody who attacks any member of our NHS staff is attacking our precious national health service. It is not acceptable; it should never be seen as acceptable and we should send that message in a very united and loud fashion from the chamber today.