HC Deb 04 July 2000 vol 353 cc148-9
6. Mr. Ivan Lewis (Bury, South)

If he will make a statement on the steps he is taking to protect NHS staff from violence. [127514]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)

Violence to staff in the national health service is unacceptable. A cross-Government campaign, the NHS zero tolerance zone, was launched last October with targets to reduce violence against staff by 20 per cent. by April 2001 and 30 per cent. by April 2003. Changes have also been made to the choice of medical practitioner regulations to combat violence against GPs.

Mr. Lewis

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. How many verbal and physical attacks on NHS staff have been recorded recently? More specifically, can he assure my constituents in Bury, South that he and other Health Ministers liaise with the Home Office to ensure that those brought to the courts and convicted of such attacks on NHS staff feel the full force of the law?

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend raises some important issues. Our surveys show that about 65,000 staff suffered physical and verbal assaults last year. One of the aims of the new strategy is to ensure that all such incidents are recorded, so the figure will probably increase in the short term as people are encouraged to report them. He is right that cross-Government co-operation is important. We work closely with the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department on that strategy. For example, the Lord Chancellor, who is president of the Magistrates Association, has said that it is entirely legitimate for magistrates to respond decisively to a particular form of criminal behaviour, such as assaults on NHS staff, and to impose a sentence that has a deterrent component. In the Bury area, where the police, the health authority and the magistracy co-operate closely, there has been a reduction in violent incidents against staff of some 24 per cent.

Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight)

I congratulate the Government on the work that they have done in improving casualty departments and, therefore, reducing, I hope, threats of violence in them. Employing more porters has helped in that respect. Can the Minister give an assurance that community staff will not be forgotten?

In a age where 10-year-olds all seem to have their own mobile phones, is there any reason why community staff have to share mobile phones between teams?

Mr. Denham

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. We shall produce further material as part of the campaign, either at the end of this month or at the beginning of August, which will provide guidance to staff, health authorities and employers in mental health and community health settings and the ambulance services because those staff are at particular risk. On mobile phones and other forms of communication, I agree that employers should make proper assessments locally. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman sighs, but the work done by individual members of staff varies, so it is important that the working position of each of them is considered. In circumstances where such measures would add to their safety, I certainly think that employers should put them in place.