Culture change needed to prevent assaults

31 October 2018

MP Chris Bryant (left) with PFEW's John Apter

MP Chris Bryant (left) with PFEW's John Apter

The Federation joined the Royal College of Nursing at a summit to discuss the shared problem of assaults against the emergency services.

PFEW National Chair John Apter told an audience of health service stakeholders, police and legal representatives in London on Wednesday that tougher sentences are vital – but a culture change is also needed so that assaulting a blue light worker becomes socially unacceptable.

He said: “The new legislation coming into effect shortly is only part of the answer. We also need the right training and equipment. The best thing we’ve had in the police in 10 years is Taser and Body Worn Video as without doubt this has saved lives.

“Policing is unpredictable and it is dangerous but to suggest that violence against officers is an acceptable part of the job is quite wrong. It is something we should never accept.”

John gave an overview of the Federation’s successful Protect the Protectors campaign, which has raised national awareness of the epidemic of assaults against police and other emergency services and introduced health professionals to the Seven Point Plan he championed in his previous role as Chair of Hampshire Police Federation. Suggesting they could adopt something similar, he said this had received senior management buy-in and functioned as a charter of how officers could expect to be treated in the aftermath of an assault.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, whose Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill – which spun out of the Protect The Protectors campaign – becomes law on Tuesday 13 November also addressed the conference. He said he had been appalled by reports of rocks being thrown at firefighters in his Rhondda constituency and to hear of attacks on NHS staff and police.

He said: “Police are punched, kicked, spat on and magistrates say ‘you have to put up with certain amounts of violence in your line of work’. All organisations need to challenge this growing acceptance.”

Mr Bryant warned that just passing a law doesn’t necessarily resolve a problem but the new Act could be a catalyst for a cultural change, adding: “We needed to send a message to judges and magistrates that attacks on our emergency services are an attack on society.”

Delegates watched a hard-hitting PFEW video in which officers and other emergency workers discussed the attacks they had endured on duty. They also heard from Sharon Morris, a mental health worker who had been traumatised by a brutal assault carried out by a long term patient.

Afterwards she repeated questioned whether she had missed the signs that the man was about to attack. Sharon called for better understanding and support for victims of assault.

The summit also heard about Operation Cavell – a successful joint initiative by police and the NHS in Sussex to tackle violence and antisocial behaviour against health service workers. And it was addressed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock who reiterated his support for efforts to end violence and pledged a new “zero tolerance” NHS violence reduction strategy.