Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Viewpoint: Protecting our carers and elderly

There may be a shock coming for the heartless, irresponsible thugs who physically or verbally attack doctors, nurses and health professionals as they are simply doing their jobs in Ulster's hospitals.

Health Minister Paul Goggins has warned that if a trial scheme in Bolton is successful, police here could be handing out £80 on-the-spot fixed penalty fines.

There may be a shock coming for the heartless, irresponsible thugs who physically or verbally attack doctors, nurses and health professionals as they are simply doing their jobs in Ulster's hospitals. Health Minister Paul Goggins has warned that if a trial scheme in Bolton is successful, police here could be handing out £80 on-the-spot fixed penalty fines.

No argument, no court case, if someone is caught being violent, by word or deed, in a casualty unit they would be held until the money is paid over. That is the theory, but it remains to be seen, in a three-month trial period, whether police can operate the system and whether the prospect of an instant fine will deter attackers.

Certainly the public is ready and willing for more direct methods to be used not only against thuggery in a hospital setting but against robbery inflicted on vulnerable old people. Not a day goes by, in the run-up to Christmas, without news of gangs armed with guns or screwdrivers homing in on lonely pensioners, to rob and leave them frightened for the rest of their days.

Violence against health carers is hard to understand, let alone deal with, and people will be watching, with interest, how Mr Goggins intends to implement his "zero tolerance" approach. If the Bolton strategy works, will he make sure that there are enough police to back up the hospital staff?

Dealing with out-of-control drunks, in accident and emergency units, has always been a problem, but binge drinking and drug-taking may explain why it is on the increase. With more than 2,300 violent incidents recorded between April and September - plus nearly 1,000 verbal attacks - the authorities have to come up with new answers.

Already there is a policy for every health trust to appoint a senior person to counter violence and to help the victims, but much more needs to be done. A new Zero Tolerance group is working on the problem, bringing together representatives from all the services dogged by random violence, including the Ambulance Service, the Fire Brigade and staff organisations.

During the worst of the troubles, there were few complaints of attacks on staff of the vital public services, because everyone appreciated them so much, but peace has brought out the worst in a small number of people. They have to be identified, shamed and brought to book, just as do the thieving gangs who are causing so much misery at this time. Whatever methods the Government choose - and more police must be made available - the law-abiding community will be behind them.

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