Tougher approach to assaults on NHS staff
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, has written to NHS staff voicing his concern in relation to the use of violence against emergency workers. Hancock’s approach mirrors that taken last year by police chiefs worried about the rise in violence used towards police officers.
Why is it needed?
Last year’s NHS Staff Survey revealed that 15% of NHS staff and 34% of ambulance trust staff had experienced physical violence. As a consequence, the NHS, police and Crown Prosecution Service have approved a joint agreement on offences against emergency workers.
The purpose of the joint agreement is to provide a framework to set out what victims of this crime can expect and to ensure effective investigation and prosecution. The joint agreement is in relation to assault on all emergency workers and there seems to be a renewed focus on this area.
What differs from the policy towards other victims of violence?
At investigation level, the agreement sets out that the Victims’ Code applies and that victims will be offered the opportunity to complete an impact statement. This is the same for all victims, but there are substantial differences in other respects.
- organisational impact statement – the organisation (hospital, GP surgery, ambulance service) can set out the impact that the crime has had on their service
- community impact statements may be submitted
- guidance on the management of potential exposure to blood-borne viruses should be considered. It advises on the risk of infection through injury of Hepatitis B, C and HIV
The charging decision is made in the same way for all offences using a two-stage test. The first question is whether there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. If the answer is yes, the second question is whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.
Public interest test
It is acknowledged that assaults on NHS staff are sometimes committed by those in crisis or with neurological conditions. The CPS must take account of the level of culpability of the suspect, whether he or she was affected by any significant mental or physical health or disability. If that is the case, it may mean that a prosecution is not required. On the other hand, prosecutors are told that a prosecution is more likely if the offence is committed against a person who is serving the public at the time.
Can I challenge a decision?
Challenging a decision is the same for NHS staff as for other victims. An issue can be raised with the police if they decide not to proceed with an investigation. Alternatively, the victim’s right to review can be invoked following a CPS decision.
Wherever appropriate we will seek to challenge wrongful charging decisions, particularly where a defendant was suffering from mental or physical disability that could have affected their judgement.
The agreement contains a pledge to emergency workers via a seven-point plan, which can be summarised as:
- assaults and hate crimes will be investigated in the same way as for members of the public
- the Victims’ Code applies to all victims including staff and volunteers
- the affected member of staff should not investigate their own assault
- the right welfare and supervision should be offered to victims
- the supervisor must ensure that the head of department is informed to provide continuity of welfare support
- the victim is to complete a Health and Safety incident report with their supervisor
- to ensure a successful prosecution, the best evidence must be presented
As can be seen, gone are the days when assaults against emergency workers could be seen as being something to be expected or tolerated as being a part of the job.
How can we help?
All our lawyers are trained to ensure prosecution guidance is properly applied and that sentencing guidelines are followed by sentencers.
It is a risk, when issues are given substantial publicity, that courts react in an overly harsh way towards defendants. We will ensure that the best result possible is secured on your behalf.
If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us help.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.