Belfast Telegraph

Poots wants spot fines to deal with health staff abuse

By Victoria O'Hara

Nuisance 999 callers and patients who threaten medical staff should face automatic fines, the Health Minister has said.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Edwin Poots said he was keen to pursue on the spot financial penalties in a bid to stamp out abuses of the health system.

Explaining his support for automatic fining, the DUP minister said the move would discourage attacks and also generate income for the financially stretched health service. Stark figures show that in the Belfast, Southern, South Eastern and Western Trusts nearly 6,000 staff were victims of verbal or physical attacks between March 2013 and March 2014.

Mr Poots said if people were fined for car parking offences, those who abuse the health system should also face penalties.

"I certainly think if there are people who get into a hospital and verbally abuse staff or threaten physical violence we need to have more ways to discourage that type of behaviour," Mr Poots said.

But he added many health service staff who were victims of abuse did not want to go through a legal process.

"For many of them it is the hassle of doing it, but if there was a spot fining system then that would be a major disincentive to them."

Such a proposal would need the support of the Department of Justice. His comments come as he is faced with having to implement £140m of cuts.

But he insisted the crisis-hit health service in Northern Ireland was still "fit for purpose", though it needed complete change in order to survive.

The minister was speaking after comments by First Minister Peter Robinson, who described the Assembly as not fit for purpose and that it required a political overhaul.

However, Mr Poots insisted that the health service – while under immense pressure– was not in the same position.

"It is fit for purpose, but if it is to remain fit for purpose it has to be completely changed," he said. Speaking from Castle Buildings base in Stormont, he also insisted he had faith in the major blueprint for healthcare reform – Transforming Your Care (TYC) – but was disappointed that the changes were not moving quickly.

"I will have spent £40m on TYC by the end of the year.

"Would I like to have spent more at this stage on it? Yes, I would," he said.

Meanwhile, touching on his political ambitions, he said he was "not envious" of the First Minister's job.

"I don't envy the First Minister, nor indeed would I be envious of that particular role," he said.

"You can only do something when you get agreement with the Deputy First Minister."

Story so far

Edwin Poots wanted £160m extra for his Health Department, but got just £20m in a new budget revealed last month. He said the planned cuts would be devastating and warned that patients would suffer through longer waiting lists and fewer nurses. A further £60m is understood to be earmarked for health in next month's monitoring round. Mr Poots has insisted the service is "fit for purpose".

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