30/01/2007

Uniformed officers to be based at A&E

An innovative pilot scheme, which will see two uniformed police officers being based at Belfast City Hospital during "hotspot" times to combat attacks on health staff, has today been launched.

The unique partnership initiative between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Health and Belfast City Hospital is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.

From February 1, officers from South Belfast will be on duty at the Accident and Emergency Unit of Belfast City Hospital on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 10pm to 3am for a period on three months.

The timing reflects the hours when attacks are more likely to take place. If successful, the pilot will be rolled out to other hospitals.

Speaking at the launch, Assistant Chief Constable for Urban Region Duncan McCausland said that he hoped that the scheme would provide additional support to the existing security arrangements and extra reassurance for healthcare workers and patients.

"A hospital is a place where everyone should feel totally safe and secure. Health care staff carry out vital roles on a daily basis and physical and verbal attacks are extremely distressing and traumatic. Such assaults are totally unacceptable in a civilised society.

"We already work closely with security staff at the City Hospital and have radio and CCTV links, however, this new scheme will enable us to be on hand to respond immediately to any incident.”

He continued: "My officers will be based at the A&E Unit of the hospital, at times when assaults traditionally take place, to instantly challenge and deal with anti-social and criminal behaviour and when necessary make arrests.

"Having a high visible police presence at the hospital will also act as a strong deterrent to anyone considering engaging in any criminal activity."

ACC McCausland said that the pilot scheme will be reviewed after three months but he hoped that it would be successful in reducing assaults and the fear of assaults and enhancing the safety of everyone at the hospital.

He added: "This scheme will send out a clear message - that if you engage in violent behaviour against hospital staff you will be dealt with robustly."

Commenting on today's launch, Health Minister Paul Goggins said that a “zero tolerance” approach must be taken to deal with attacks on staff.

The Minister said: “There have been over 2200 physical assaults and around 1000 verbal attacks on healthcare staff, in the last six months alone, in Northern Ireland. This is unacceptable. I am determined to take sustained action to ensure there is Zero Tolerance of these kind of attacks. We need to give front-line staff the protection they deserve and I believe the visible presence of uniformed police officers, who can witness, report and deal with any assaults, will help do that.

”

The Minister also outlined a series of proposed actions, which have emerged after discussions with the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and other relevant Trade Unions.

Mr Goggins continued: “Everyone must work together to put a stop to attacks and ensure that the perpetrators face the full rigour of the law. The evidence is that those Trusts who adopt Zero Tolerance, have fewer attacks.



“Trusts must carry out their responsibilities, which is why I will be asking Chief Executives to nominate a senior person who will be responsible for the safety of staff and for supporting staff in taking action, including prosecutions. 



“My Department, employers and staff side organisations are all united on this issue. We have created a Zero Tolerance Group and will continue to work together to confront the problem and support the victims.”



BMA’s Danny Lambe, a member of the Zero Tolerance Group said:

 “BMA welcomes the Minister’s commitment to address the issue of violence against health service staff. This is a real and growing problem and it requires immediate actions to protect staff and to inform both public and staff that violence in health service settings will not be tolerated. Prompt and thorough action must be taken against those who verbally and physically abuse the people who provide their heath care, often in very difficult circumstances.”

Maureen Scott, Royal College of Nursing and union joint secretary said: “The Minister shares our concerns about the level of violence against staff in the HPSS and has given a commitment to ensure that we protect and support staff and will achieve Zero Tolerance to all forms of violence”.



(EF)

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