New measures to protect NHS staff are to be introduced to try to reduce the thousands of assaults on them that take place every year.
Staff are to be given better training in dealing with violent situations and offenders will be prosecuted more quickly.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will set out further details later.
He says the NHS will adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to violence against its staff.
A bill to double the sentence for assaults on emergency workers from six months to a year is shortly expected to become law too.
The NHS Violence Reduction Strategy expands on work previously carried out by a body that was scrapped by government more than a year ago.
Sharon Morris, a nurse for more than 30 years, was attacked in the medium security mental health unit where she worked. The effect on her life has been profound.
It was in 2016 that the abuse happened and she still experiences flashbacks and nightmares.
“It was a patient I had been working with for a year and it all happened out of the blue. He went to attack a colleague and I stepped in.
“I remember him hitting and punching me in the head and then I passed out.”
Sharon was off sick for three months and it took another three months after that for her to feel safe enough to work with patients again.
“The worst bit is the psychological side. It’s made me feel very wary of people. For a while I would see my assailant’s face in other young men – even my eldest son, who is physically quite similar.
“There are still things that make me anxious now. I can’t read or watch things like crime programmes that contain a lot of violence.”
Nurse Shelley Pearce was “taken hostage” by an alcoholic patient on an acute ward, who held a piece of broken plastic against her throat.
She has also experienced other serious assaults, including being head-butted.
NHS Protect, the body that was disbanded in March 2017, used to support and advise hospitals in England on staff safety.
Afterwards, it was solely up to individual NHS trusts to safeguard their workers.
Speaking to the Royal College of Nursing, Mr Hancock will outline how the new strategy will work:
- Offenders to be prosecuted quickly as a result of new partnership between the NHS, Police and Crown Prosecution Service
- Care inspectors will scrutinise NHS trusts on quality of plans to reduce violence against staff
- Better training for staff to deal with violent situations, including challenging circumstances involving patients with dementia or mental health issues
- A new system so that staff can record assaults more easily
NHS England will also look at national data to determine which staff are most vulnerable to violence and what more needs to be done.
Mr Hancock says: “We will not shy away from the issue – we want to empower staff and give them greater confidence to report violence, knowing that they will see meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system.”
Royal College of Nursing National Officer, Kim Sunley said: “Nurses and health care workers understand their roles aren’t risk-free but – to many – it still seems as if the threat of physical violence is a daily reality.
“These measures are another way to change this for good by increasing the accountability of employers for the safety of their staff, and ensuring those who wilfully assault healthcare workers feel the full force of the law.”