The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill currently passing through Parliament is a Private Member’s Bill seeking to give special protection to emergency staff in England and Wales, such as paramedics, nurses, firefighters and police, while they are carrying out their work (Parliament, 2018).
Those who physically assault emergency staff would receive tougher sentences. Such assaults have increased in recent years and have included staff being strangled, stabbed, head-butted, punched, kicked, spat at, slapped and bitten, and having their eyes gouged.
Historically, NHS Protect collected data on physical assaults against NHS staff in England, but the organisation was disbanded in March 2017. The Westminster Government will now rely on the optional NHS Staff Survey for information on assaults against staff. Without access to full figures, it will be difficult to monitor and quantify the scale of the problem, or the effectiveness of any new law.
The National Assembly for Wales has agreed a Legislative Consent Memorandum relating to the Bill (National Assembly for Wales, 2017), indicating its support for the legislation. The scope of this legislation is expected to be extended to cover a greater cohort of health and care staff.
The proposed new law has cross-party support, but will it be enough to reduce attacks on nurses and other staff?
The use of body-worn cameras is becoming increasingly prevalent within police services and the criminal justice system. Within the NHS, a number of organisations have piloted body-worn cameras for security staff and last year at least one mental health trust piloted them for clinical staff (Hardy et al., 2017).
In 2015 Cardiff and Vale University Health Board became the first Health Board in Wales to provide body-worn cameras for security staff, with the aim of reducing the likelihood of violence against staff and patients. Cardiff and Vale University Health Board says there are between 2,500 and 3,000 assaults on its staff each year.
The Scottish Parliament passed the Emergency Workers Act in 2005 (amended in 2008), which makes it an offence to assault, obstruct or hinder a registered nurse (among a list of professions) at any time they are acting in that capacity. For more serious attacks, other Scottish legislation can be invoked. Figures widely reported in January 2018 suggested just over 6,509 common assaults were reported on emergency staff during 2016/17 (Beattie, 2018).
The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland published an advice note on Hidden Surveillance (Mental Welfare for Scotland Commission, 2015). There is evidence of some NHS boards in Scotland issuing body cameras to parking attendants.
Should all or some nurses wear body cameras routinely, or at all?
Main Auditorium, Belfast Waterfront, 2 Lanyon Place, Belfast, BT1 3WH
Matter for discussion, submitted by the RCN Suffolk Branch
Page last updated - 05/09/2018