Hospitals: Assaults on Staff (Hansard, 16 November 1987)
HL Deb 16 November 1987 vol 490 cc8-9

2.57 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they have in mind to combat the increasing menace of physical abuse and assault upon nursing staff and doctors in casualty departments of National Health Service hospitals.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are naturally concerned that all staff working in the health and personal social services are protected against violence. A Department of Health and Social Security Advisory Committee on Violence to Staff has been established and will report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the early spring.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, which is helpful so far as it goes. Is the Minister aware—I know that he is—of a particularly vicious attack at a local hospital in Surrey where I am the president of the friends of the hospital? As a result of that attack, a nurse was off sick for three months. Will the Minister also consider the position of the regional health authorities which have to employ security officers? Will he convey to his right honourable friend the need for public funds to be made available in some of the more extreme cases?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as regards the last point which my noble friend has made, it is very difficult, where specific problems are encountered in individual hospitals and units, to make public funds available. On the wider question, I take my noble friend's point. Employers have a duty under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of employees. As a result of a recent court judgment, the risk of injury from violence is considered to be within the employer's responsibility to provide a safe system of work. The way of achieving that is not only by employment of security officers but, for example, by the installation of closed-circuit televisions, improved lighting and decor, and training in the management of aggression if it should occur.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, will the Minister say whether National Health Service hospitals are public places within the meaning of the law, within which law-abiding citizens are forbidden to defend themselves?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. That is all very well; unfortunately, it does not stop aggression.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his reply concerning the establishment of an advisory committee will be very much welcomed by the medical profession as a whole? Will it be possible, when the committee reports, for the views contained in the report to be put to the various associations in the medical profession for their examination?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. The committee will draw evidence not only from the medical and nursing professions but also from the social security organisation of the department as well. During the discussions on the report, we have heard a number of instances of best practice. One of the things which the report will seek to do is to make sure that those practices are widely disseminated to every level.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the Minister accept that there is growing concern, particularly among nurses—who are usually the people who see patients first—at the growing level of assault? Does he accept that any of that is due to long periods of waiting? Will the new category of nurse practitioners in accident and emergency units be a useful way of deploying scarce nursing staff?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, the noble Lord is referring to the triage system which is being evaluated in, I think I am right in saying, three hospitals at the moment. The reduction of waiting times through the use of nurses to see accident and emergency patients before a doctor in order to direct them quickly to the most effective clinician would seem to me to be a reasonable solution to this very worrying problem.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, can the Minister say when this report will be finalised? Will he not agree that it is a matter of extreme urgency?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes. In my original Answer I said that the committee would report to my right honourable friend in the early spring.

GLOBAL ISLES COURT OF RECORD