Paramedics in Wales are to carry head cameras and ambulances are to be fitted with CCTVs in order to identify drunken hooligans. Cameras will also be installed in four hospital Accident and emergency (A&E ) departments across Wales as part of a pilot project as part of a concerted attempt to protect NHS staff from attacks .
The cameras will be used to gather vital evidence if an NHS worker is attacked, in a bid to support any prosecutions.
Wales’ first NHS violence “tsar” has also called for the pub industry to take a lead in protecting NHS staff and enforcing a zero tolerance message.
David Francis, a former Deputy Chief Constable of South Wales, has suggested that people who attack NHS staff while under the influence of alcohol should be banned from all licensed premises in the area. In his first major interview since being appointed as a champion to tackle violence and aggression in the NHS, he told the Western Mail: “There are still in the region of 20 incidences of violence a day and that’s far too much.
“We have totally dedicated staff who go to work for one reason – to try to help patients. Not only do they deserve to be protected but they also deserve the public’s respect.
“Zero tolerance is a sincere message but we need to do more. The more our staff accept unacceptable behaviour the more it is going to happen.
Francis, who is also chairman of Cwm Taf NHS Trust, was appointed as Wales’ violence tsar in May after a ministerial task force made recommendations to prevent aggression against NHS staff, including installing CCTV in A&E departments and stationing police officers in hospitals.
“We are doing a lot of careful work with CCTV because we have to reassure patients,” Francis said. “We need to make sure that we are not threatening patient confidence.” Francis has been working behind the scenes with Wales’ four police chief constables in a bid to ensure that the NHS, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are working together to identify and prosecute offenders.
All NHS trusts and the majority of Wales’ 22 local health boards have also nominated executive directors to sit on a violence and aggression strategy group.
He added: “It may not look like the world is changing overnight but a lot of effort is being put in to get the good foundations.”
Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA’s Welsh Council, said: “Violent behaviour in a healthcare setting especially is totally unacceptable and NHS management, the police and the courts should prosecute and robustly deal with the small but disruptive and disrespectful minority of people who abuse the service.”
Christine Bigmore was attacked as she tried to stop a man stealing her ambulance from Blackweir Ambulance Station in Cardiff while she and a colleague were on a break.
She grabbed the keys off the man when he stalled the ambulance, but was punched in the chest.
He walked away from the station, but she and her colleague trailed him in the ambulance until he was arrested by police.
Christine, an experienced paramedic, who lives in Cardiff, said, “He got three months in jail and I was so, so pleased– it was a ‘punch in the air’ moment.”
She added: “I am much more wary of people hanging around the station now – people use it as a short cut. I’m much more alert when people are passing through.
“If I’m on station on my own, then I make sure all the doors are locked. I suppose I’m a little more nervous than I used to be.”
Christine, 54, a mother-of-three, who has worked for the ambulance service for 17 years, said that although ambulances can request police back-up when answering a 999 call, violence and aggression can quickly erupt.
She said: “It can be quite risky because you think that you’re going into a potentially safe situation which can turn in a heartbeat.
“We do get used to it [violence and abuse] and you do become immune to some of it, like the bad language – you let it go over your head and try and carry on with the job you’re supposed to do.
“Some people see us as authority figures – which we’re not – and we get their anger and frustration.
“Over the years it has become far worse. You seem to be a soft target because you don’t fight back.”