People who physically assault accident and emergency nurses could face tougher sentences under a proposed new law that has been given government backing this week.
If ultimately passed into law, the private member’s bill would double the maximum sentence for common assault against an emergency worker from six months to a year.
“We look forward to the outcome of Friday’s debate on the bill”
The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill was proposed by Labour MP Chris Bryant in July and is due to be debated by MPs in Westminster on Friday.
As well as police, fire and prison officers, the bill will also cover certain healthcare staff under its definition of “emergency worker”.
It defines them as those “employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide, ambulance services, accident and emergency department services or urgent treatment centre services”.
Mr Bryant, who is MP for Rhondda, came top in a ballot of MPs seeking to introduce a private member’s bill in June. He then asked voters to choose their preferred bill from a shortlist of six.
“There is still no legal protection for paramedics, doctors or nurses”
Speaking in July, he noted that it was already an offence to attack a police officer conducting their duties but the law was “far too weak” and had “proved ineffective in protecting officers”.
“Prosecutions are rare, sentences are extremely lenient – and there is still no legal protection for paramedics, doctors or nurses,” he said, according to the BBC.
On Monday, policing minister Nick Hurd told MPs that the government was “very supportive” of the principles of Mr Bryant’s bill and that violence against emergency service workers was “intolerable”.
However, he added that, while the government backed the idea, the details had yet to be worked out, the BBC reported.
Government backs bill for new law on A&E nurse assaults
Private members’ bills allow MPs who are not ministers get to create legislation. However, they stand little chance of becoming law unless the government chooses to back them.
The bill had its first reading on 19 July and is due to have its second reading on 20 October. However, it will still need to get through three more stages in the Commons and then negotiate its way through the Lords before it achieves royal assent and becomes law.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “We support the principles of Chris Bryant’s bill on tougher punishments for those who attack emergency workers and are pleased to see it has received government backing.
“NHS emergency staff, and indeed all health service staff, should feel able to perform their jobs, which save so many lives, without the threat of violence, abuse or harassment from patients or their relatives,” he said.
He added: “The NHS has a zero-tolerance attitude towards violence and will pursue legal action against offenders whenever appropriate. We look forward to the outcome of Friday’s debate on the bill.”
Legislation on safe nurse staffing levels introduced last year by the Welsh government followed a similar ballot of MPs.
The Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 started out as an assembly members’ bill proposed by Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams.