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.

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) cam 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.

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.

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, or 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 a mental or physical disability that could have affected their judgement.

Seven-point plan

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.

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.


How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact our team of criminal defence specialists on: 01376 511819