By Nadeem Badshah
CAMPAIGNERS have backed plans to allow hospitals to refuse to treat racist, sexist and violent patients to tackle growing levels of abuse suffered by NHS staff.
From April, any patient or hospital visitor behaving in a racist or abusive way could be barred from receiving care unless the case is an emergency, the government said.
Previously, NHS patients could only be refused help if they were aggressive or violent.
It comes as new figures show the percentage of staff who said they had suffered discrimination has risen by a quarter in five years, from 5.8 per cent to 7.2 per cent.
Racism was the most common form of discrimination but the figures also show the highest levels of reported sexism, homophobia and anti-religious incidents.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association’s council chair, told Eastern Eye: “We are deeply concerned about the increase in abusive behaviour towards our healthcare workers and are particularly worried that BAME staff are being disproportionately affected.
“No one should ever have to fear being abused or harassed when they go to work, least of all hardworking NHS staff who commit their careers to helping others and who are currently working under immense system pressures.
“We therefore, support this announcement from NHS England that NHS services will be able to protect staff by barring from non-emergency care any patient or visitor who inflicts discriminatory or harassing behaviour on staff.
“All staff must feel confident coming forward when they are subject to abuse or harassment, and must do so in the knowledge that they work in a supportive environment and something will be done.”
About one in seven of around 569,000 health service staff surveyed reported being physically attacked.
The poll found workers at ambulance, mental health and learning disability trusts were worst affected by abuse and violence.
And 29 per cent of NHS workers have been bullied, harassed or abused in the past year by patients and members of the public.
Munira Wilson, a Liberal Democrat MP and the party’s health spokeswoman, told Eastern Eye: “Just imagine how appalling it must be to face discrimination as a BAME staff member in our health service, never mind knowing it’s getting worse and worse. It is just awful.
“Violence or abuse of any form should not be tolerated towards NHS staff. Taking care of and valuing our hardworking staff should be a key priority for the NHS.
“While it is welcome that measures are being taken to take discrimination more seriously, Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign for more action to ensure equality across the system.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock wrote to NHS staff in February to announce tougher measures to probe abuse and harassment towards staff, saying “no act of violence or abuse is minor”.
Hancock added: “being assaulted or abused is not part of the job”.
Jabeer Butt, CEO of the Race Equality Foundation, said while on the surface this looks like a step forward, its experience in this area has shown that BAME workers are often let down by colleagues and managers who fail to support them when subjected to racism.
He added: “It is vital that we all feel safe at work.
“NHS England needs a more robust approach to ensure the safety of staff and quality of care for people who may be distressed or in a state of crisis.”
Following laws unveiled in 2018, jail terms for those who assault NHS staff have been doubled, alongside changes to make it easier to prosecute assaults.
Sir Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, said the service was “determined to clamp down on abuse and aggression in all its forms”.