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Health staff need full protection

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 01/04/2015

Nurses and doctors are working under tremendous pressure at present
Nurses and doctors are working under tremendous pressure at present

Judges, Health Ministers and health trust managers all ritually say that there is zero tolerance of attacks on staff in our hospitals and other health facilities. Yet a man who punched a doctor and headbutted a nurse received only a six-month jail sentence.

He is a man with a history of violence, including assaults on the police. His attacks on the health workers came a week apart, showing that it was not just a simple one-off incident.

There are sentencing guidelines for such crimes and we don't know exactly where the court placed these assaults in the scale of severity. However, the victims might feel that the perpetrator was not harshly punished.

Certainly there should be zero tolerance of attacks on health staff. Nurses and doctors are working under tremendous pressure at present, with insufficient staff in hospitals to meet the rising demand for treatments. The staff treat everyone who comes through their doors with the same professionalism and care and the very least that they deserve is to be treated respectfully by patients and their relatives.

It is intolerable that anyone, no matter what their condition, should assault someone who is merely trying to treat them.

Often those who end up in court for such assaults are said to have been suffering from the effects of drink or drugs. That should not be an excuse for their behaviour or even a mitigating factor when considering what sentence to impose.

The courts must impose sentences which would act as a deterrent, for attacks on frontline medical staff are reaching epidemic proportions. In February it was reported that on average there are 17 assaults on staff every day. That is a staggering statistic and action must be taken to offer staff greater protection.

There needs to be an adequate security staff presence in high-risk areas like accident and emergency units and those staff who are attacked must be given every support by their employers, not only to recover from their ordeal, but also to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Health staff are particularly vulnerable given the nature of their jobs but there should be no acceptance that this is just a fact of life.

We know that health staff already feel overworked, undervalued and placed under enormous strain. They should not also have to fear for their own safety.

Belfast Telegraph

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