Crimes at hospitals cannot be tolerated
The growing number of crimes taking place in and around hospitals in Northern Ireland is truly shocking. In just three years the number of offences reported to police have risen by 30% and include such vile crimes as sex attacks, violence and robberies.
It is appalling that places which are dedicated to healing and treating the ill should also be the targets of criminals. Because of the nature of the work which goes on in these sites, the offences seem more of a violation than if they occurred at other locations.
Inevitably the offences are committed against both staff and patients, both of whom are vulnerable to the ill-intentioned. However, it is not a total surprise that criminals are active in and around hospitals. These are generally large sites visited by huge numbers of people daily and therefore an enticing target for those who generally carry out opportunistic offences.
What is particularly nauseating is the number of sex offences reported in the past year - a total of 100. That is another demonstration of how difficult it is to provide adequate security on sprawling sites, not all of them well lit or guarded.
While it is easy to condemn those responsible for the offences listed in our story today, finding a solution to the problem is difficult.
It is telling that former Health Minister Edwin Poots wants to see tougher sentences imposed on those found guilty of offences against health workers and patients.
The law as it stands probably provides adequate punishment, but sentencing guidelines may have to be amended to ensure that judges can bring the full rigour of the law down on the guilty.
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As our story notes there have been apparently lenient sentences imposed in some cases in the past. While the exact details of those cases and any mitigating factors are not included, the offenders do seem to have escaped lightly. The public is entitled to wonder if a zero tolerance approach for those convicted would send out a deterrent message to those who view hospital sites as easy pickings for their criminal behaviour.
At the same time the management of health facilities have a duty of care to their employees and to patients and must take additional security measures to offer greater safety to both.
They cannot ignore the rapidly rising crime figures and should work closely with the PSNI and trade unions to clamp down on offenders.