Nurses want more hospital protection

NURSES are calling for more protection in busy hospital wards after a police presence in Newcastle General Hospital has brought down the number of attacks on staff.

PC Shona Dennison at Newcastle General

NURSES are calling for more protection in busy hospital wards after a police presence in Newcastle General Hospital has brought down the number of attacks on staff.

Bosses are so concerned about threats to Accident & Emergency workers that for the last 16 months they have paid for their own police officer during times when staff are most at risk.

A three-month pilot scheme which began in May last year has become a permanent fixture with a police officer in A&E for three nights a week, costing around £1,700 each month.

The scheme has successfully reduced the number of abuse and assaults against staff during the times it operates and the phenomena of policing hospitals is spreading across the region.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, brought in a police officer to patrol the hospital four years ago with similar results and Sunderland Royal Hospital has also taken the drastic step of drafting in police to protect staff over the weekend.

Newcastle General Hospital A&E Matron Angela McNab said violence and abuse against staff is a growing problem.

She said: "I feel it’s happening more now and the majority is alcohol related.

"Staff are more at risk as there are more incidents in general. It isn’t just A&E but in-patient wards in hospitals too.

"I think it is very sad we have had to do this. Patients used to respect doctors and nurses and wouldn’t dream of hitting them or being rude."

The officer patrols the busy department on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 8pm to 2am when the majority of drink-fuelled incidents against staff take place.

The number of incidents including physical attacks, verbal abuse and threatening behaviour has dropped from 624 over the three nights in 2005 to 603 during the same times last year at the hospital.

Matron McNab said the Newcastle Trust was pleased with the drop but extending the hours of the police presence could be the next step.

She added: "It is something we may have to look at, at trust level, when the new figures come out. In a perfect world we would have a policeman on every night."

PC Amy Searby of Northumbria Police, who helps protect staff at Newcastle General, said she thought it was warranted to extend the house of police cover.

She said: "The NHS does not tolerate violent or rude patients and having a police presence deters people carrying on in that way as well as reassuring the general public."

She said police had been deployed to other areas of the hospital including senile wards and the children’s ward to calm down parents. She said: "It is not something that is specific to Newcastle. It is the way things are going across the country."

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Sister punched by a drunk

SISTER Kate Whitehead was attacked by a patient in April this year at the hospital’s A&E department just and hour-and-a-half before the police officer came on duty.

The patient punched her in the stomach from his wheelchair as he awoke from a drunken sleep when she tried to help him. He was later sentenced to 18 months’ community service and given a curfew by Newcastle magistrates.

She said: "I get a lot of verbal aggression but that was by far the worst incident. I was glad it was taken seriously and he was punished."

She said the NHS zero tolerance policy to refuse treatment to abusive patients unless it is an emergency were a sign attacks on staff were being taken more seriously. But she said tougher measures were still need to protect staff and other patients.

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Front line staff most at risk

MENTAL health trust Northumberland, Tyne and Wear had the highest number of assaults in the region but has seen a drop of 797 from 2,651 in 05/06 to 1,854 last year.

The trust has appointed a local security management specialist to oversee security matters, and all front line staff are being trained in prevention and management of violence.

A spokesperson for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust said; "It is completely unacceptable that staff should face violence and aggression at work. We are pleased that there were fewer assaults than the previous year, which shows we are beginning to see success in our attempts to tackle violence.

"Physical assaults on staff in mental health and learning disability settings are nationally higher in comparison to assaults on other staff."

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Total assaults on staff in 2006/07

City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust: 123

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust: 41

Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust: 102

Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: 119

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust: 1,854

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust: 179

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust: 21

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