Police squad deployed to protect NHS staff in London hospitals after assaults rise by a quarter

Team of three officers will work with Royal Free, Whittington, University College and Great Ormond Street hospitals

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The Independent Online

Staff at four major hospitals in London will be protected by a new police squad as it emerged violence against NHS workers has risen by almost a quarter in six years.

A team of three officers will support staff at the Royal Free, Whittington, University College and Great Ormond Street hospitals, said squad leader Sergeant Paul Taylor.

The team would attend A&E departments at weekends to help protect nurses and office staff from violence, as well as providing a presence at open days and other events as part of the new community policing initiative, he told The Mirror.

“We want to provide a point of contact so we can make it easier for staff to report any aggression,” said Sergeant Taylor. “Historically, NHS workers have just put up with violence. But they don’t have to put up with it anymore.”

At the four hospitals where the new squad will be based, 355 assaults were recorded last year, according to official statistics – a rise of 60 per cent since 2009-10, when there were 219.

Across the UK, there were 70,555 reported assaults on hospital staff in 2015-16, up from 56,718 in 2009-10.

The number of assaults involving religious or racial factors have also risen sharply in the last year, according to The Times.

Security staff at the Royal Blackburn Hospital, part of the East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, where there were 186 assaults last year – down from 394 in 2009-10 – were issued with body cameras in 2015 to deter attackers.

Oliver Dowden, a Conservative MP for Hertsmere, has called for greater protection for NHS staff against assaults.

In a Parliament debate earlier this year, he said: "It is currently an offence to assault a police officer, an immigration officer or a prison officer – but it is not a specific offence to assault an NHS worker, whether they are a doctor, a nurse or a paramedic".

While there are separate sentences for those charged with assaulting police, prison and immigration officers, attacks on public sector workers are treated more seriously with harsher sentences than "common assault", or attacking another member of the public.

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A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: "For some years we have seen officers based at venues throughout London to ensure effective liaison with the hospital community and provide a reassuring presence for staff and patients, whilst being able to swiftly deal with any offences as and when they occur.

"In more recent months we started a series of training events in an attempt to improve the collaborative working between police and hospitals across London.

"The Hospital Liaison Team at Camden and Islington is part of this project. The training allows local officers and hospital staff – alongside their own security teams– to develop their knowledge and understanding of the main crime prevention opportunities within these environments."