'NHS staff aren't punchbags': Shock as SIX workers a day attacked in Suffolk by patients
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Drunken and angry patients who attack doctors and nurses trying to help care for them could find their NHS treatment stopped, a Suffolk hospital chief executive has warned.
The threat from West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Dr Stephen Dunn CBE, who stressed that people would still be treated in emergencies, comes as shocking figures showing NHS workers in Suffolk are attacked an average of more than six times a day.
The statistics, revealed by health and social care minister Stephen Hammond in an answer to a parliamentary question from Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter, show there were 2,318 assaults on NHS workers in Suffolk in 2018.
The data has now been met with calls for a zero-tolerance approach by Dr Poulter - who himself works as a NHS mental health doctor - and two county hospital chief executives, with Dr Dunn saying: "Should issues be ongoing, we will write to individuals explaining that we may withdraw treatment unless it is an emergency if their behaviour is repeated."
He said challenging behaviour linked to dementia or mental confusion was a "daily reality of life in an acute hospital where our patients experience serious health issues that can impact on their behaviour".
However he encouraged staff to report incidents to police, pledging to support them if they do so - and said that: "For those patients where there is no underlying medical reason for their violence, we look to work with the patient to manage their behaviour."
He added: "The safety of our staff and patients is paramount - one assault on a member of our staff is too many."
Dr Poulter - himself a victim of on attack whilst serving on the frontline in the NHS - said the 2018 figure was "too high".
However he believes it could be even higher, saying: "That's probably under-reported, because a lot of staff don't want to criminalise their patients.
"What has happened more in recent years is that we're seeing an increasing evidence of unacceptable behaviour of people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs in accident and emergency."
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Dr Poulter said attacks not only harm dedicated workers but also affect their ability to care for other patients.
"It's important to get the message out that where people are actually attacking staff, we should be having a zero tolerance approach," he said.
"It can affect staff but violence of that sort can also potentially endanger other patients.
"It can affect your confidence and become a job that causes you great anxiety and worry. Some take it in their stride but it can be very difficult to brush off in the immediate aftermath and you can end up losing a nurse or doctor for the rest of that shift, or potentially longer."
He said it was important to get across to the attackers that "actions have consequences".
He added: "Unfortunately life on the frontline of the NHS is a job where that issue can be a problem.
"But a strong statement needs to be made that these people will be prosecuted.
"NHS staff aren't punchbags - they are there to help."
Dr Poulter also believes hospitals should carry signs in prominent places warning patients that those who get aggressive with staff could be prosecuted.
He added that there was a particular concern for certain parts of the NHS workforce, such as staff who may be pregnant.
Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Ipswich Hospital, said: "We have a zero tolerance policy towards any kind of violence at ESNEFT, which includes physical, verbal, gender or racial abuse.
"We strongly encourage all of our staff and volunteers to report any incidents of violence and aggression, and we have reviewed and improved how we track those reports through the organisation and in training staff.
"We will always attempt to prosecute anyone who wilfully abuses our colleagues or another patient, but also understand they may have made an assault due to a medical or clinical reason."