HC Deb 07 July 1992 vol 211 cc188-90 3.53 pm
Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require persons responsible for hospitals to maintain prescribed standards of security; and for connected purposes. The Bill is an attempt to deal with the growing and disturbing trend of violence within our nation's hospitals.

On 24 May, a constituent, Mr. Graeme Woodhatch, while a patient at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead and Highgate, was murdered by being shot by a yet unknown assailant. Five hours earlier, in an entirely separate and unconnected incident, a nurse in the accident and emergency department of the same hospital was assaulted. A week later, another nurse in yet another London hospital, St. Thomas's, was knocked unconscious and slashed with a knife. On the very same day, an attempted rape took place at Guy's hospital. Six clays later, the abduction of a newborn baby was foiled only by the prompt action of a porter at the Withington hospital in Manchester, who scared off two intruders.

The incidents would be terrible wherever they were committed, but they adopt a particularly awful dimension when they are committed in places and against people dedicated to saving life and restoring health, and where the recipients of that care are so especially vulnerable. It is equally terrible that the incidents are by no means new or isolated. In 1986, anxiety about the increasing number of violent attacks suffered by the staff of the then Department of Health and Social Security prompted the convening of the Westminster conference, which in turn gave rise to the Committee on Violence to Staff within the DHSS. The committee, chaired by Lord Skelmersdale, published its findings in 1988. Several recommendations were made: better staff training, installation of video cameras and centralised recording of incidents.

Most significantly, Lord Skelmersdale commented: Violence must merit a new and high priority, and the provision of extra resources from the centre. Provision of a safe workplace is not seen as an accessory but part of the bedrock of service provision. Ignoring this can, if it becomes significantly serious, lead to an inability to maintain that service. As I have stated, that report was published five years ago, but the problems of violence which it underlined have by no means diminished.

The centralised recording of incidents for which Lord Skelmersdale called is still not in place. Indeed, a report by Dr. Colin MacKay of the Health and Safety Executive revealed that, in one year, in just five health authorities across Britain, almost 2,700 nurses and more than 200 hospital doctors had been attacked or injured and 650 ambulance personnel had been assaulted. Even more disturbing, it has been estimated that only one out of every 20 such incidents was reported.

This state of affairs simply cannot be allowed to continue. For years, concerned groups and individuals have called for action to combat the growing wave of violence. The Confederation of Health Service Employees, the National Union of Public Employees, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Police Federation have all communicated their concern that violence in our hospitals is reaching unacceptable levels. Right hon. and hon. Members in this House and in another place have often voiced their concerns.

It is time that those concerns were finally and properly addressed. It is time that we faced up to the challenge of making our hospitals secure. My Bill proposes a statutory body specifically charged with taking up that challenge. Such a body would have as its task the administration and monitoring of adequate and comprehensive security arrangements within our hospitals. It would be similar in structure and function to the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. It would comprise representatives of the hospitals, the security sector and local health authorities. It would be independent of the Department of Health but would report and submit recommendations to the Secretary of State.

The body would have as its primary aim the setting of a national framework within which could be co-ordinated a comprehensive strategy for combating crime, whether against property, patients or staff. It would ensure that such a strategy was consistently updated and maintained. Obviously, many security arrangements are best made at a local level. Hospital managers are undoubtedly best placed to recognise their security needs and solutions. They must have the support of national guidelines to which they can refer. At present, 48 per cent. of hospitals give no security training to any members of their staff.

The body that I propose would ensure that training for all staff is compulsory, and is effectively and regularly updated. Prevention is by far the best cure. Training staff to predict and recognise dangerous situations would go a long way to ensuring that they do not escalate. At present, safety improvements are implemented in a haphazard manner, as and when resources allow. The body that I propose would be charged with identifying problem areas, formulating solutions and ensuring that the resources required for those solutions are made available.

It is time for Lord Skelmersdale's recommendations to be fully taken on board. Where there is need, resources must be provided. Hospitals can no longer be forced to choose between employing security staff or buying incubators. The body that I propose would also be charged with the vital task of recording and collecting centrally information on the scale, nature and number of incidents that occur.

Apart from the incalculable human costs, conservative estimates put the annual financial loss to the health service through crime at about £600 million. That is equivalent to six new hospitals every year lost through crime. It is clearly unacceptable for a problem of that scale not even to be centrally recorded. The recording of crime must be one of the first steps taken in any battle to conquer it.

I recognise that the growing menace of crime in our hospitals is not a problem that can be easily solved; nor would I wish our hospitals to become fortresses. A relaxed and open hospital environment is by far the best for rapid and effective treatment and recovery. But neither can we ignore the fact that every day, in virtually every part of the country, crime and violence are already blighting that environment.

When nurses fear to walk down hospital corridors because of the possibility of attack, and when patients are subjected to violence when they should be receiving care, we fail to keep faith with the most hallowed tenets of our health service and with the dedicated people who continue to work within it. To quote Lord Skelmersdale once more: A safe work place is not an accessory to the health service but a bedrock. It is time for that bedrock to be built. It is time for action to be taken to protect our hospitals, those who work in them and those who depend on them. I therefore commend my Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms. Glenda Jackson, Mrs. Anne Campbell, Ms. Ann Coffey, Ms. Jean Corston, Ms. Angela Eagle, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Dr. Lynne Jones, Ms. Tessa Jowell, Mrs. Jane Kennedy, Ms. Estelle Morris, Mrs. Bridget Prentice and Mrs. Barbara Roche.