It feels as though not a week can pass without the media warning of a fresh “crisis in the NHS”.
But while funding shortages and the impending junior doctor strike are rightly cause for concern, another major crisis is going largely unnoticed.
Figures show that 43 per cent of A&E staff have been physically assaulted at work. Every eight minutes there is some sort of violent incident in a UK hospital.
This is unacceptable, but unfortunately cases of violence against NHS workers seem to be on the increase while the government turns a blind eye to this problem of its own making.
Plotting a graph would show a startling correlation between insufficient NHS funding and the number of doctors and nurses being attacked. As NHS budgets reach breaking point, so too do many patients.
The issue, which will be highlighted in the documentary A&E: When Patients Attack, which airs tonight on Channel 5 at 10pm, is a national scandal.
Health experts suggest that the problem can be directly linked to longer waiting times and staff cutbacks, leading to growing frustration and tension in A&E and other departments. With winter fast approaching, and the notoriously busy festive season to come, incidents of violence look set to get worse. Nobody, least of all our overworked NHS doctors and nurses, should face the prospect of going to work to be attacked, spat at or insulted.
Based at the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham, one of the country’s biggest hospitals, When Patients Attack follows a security team which uses uniformed guards and a bank of CCTV monitors to keep hospital staff safe.
The sight of a uniformed private security team in an NHS hospital is visually jarring, it would look more at home in a high-security prison than in a place of care and compassion. But the sad reality is, guards like this are a necessary part of the NHS under a Tory Government.
A&E centres across the UK, including the one in Rochdale, are being closed or consolidated creating extra journey times for patients and more pressure on those that remain.
But there is a gaping logical flaw here. NHS trusts are spending money, which should be on patient care, on employing security staff to deal with the fallout from cuts in care.
Seeing the level of physical, verbal and racial abuse that doctors and nurses have to endure makes When Patients Attack hard to watch at times. What is clear is that many of the patients featured are not lashing out for some malicious reason, they are vulnerable and bewildered people in need of care.
Many have learning difficulties or mental health problems, others are disorientated or in pain, there are those under the influence of drink or drugs and some just have nowhere else to go. A significant amount on the security team’s time seems to be spent convincing patients who have been discharged to leave the premises.
Here we see a less obvious example of how Conservative cuts are impacting on our NHS. Hospitals are always open and always welcoming. The duty of care means that no one is turned away. As a result, they are filling the void left by homelessness shelters and local government social services.
David Cameron has made much of the Government’s plan to put mental and physical health on an “equal footing”. But this will remain little more than empty rhetoric as long as those suffering from serious and complex mental health issues continue to seek help at A&E because of a lack of any alternative.
It is not just cuts to councils and the health service that have created this epidemic of NHS violence. In my constituency of Rochdale alone, Greater Manchester Police has been forced to withdraw 150 officers from the beat because of budget cuts. Business owners and members of the public have told me that Police response times have increased dramatically since 2010. It is important that violent incidents are diffused as quickly as possible and while an in-house security team is helpful, the additional support of trained Police officers is vital. Each additional minute that NHS staff have to wait for the Police increases the risk that a situation will escalate and become more serious.
Jeremy Hunt speaks of a seven-day-a-week NHS. But these grand plans ring hollow when we see the reality on the ground in the NHS today. This government cannot even guarantee that staff can work without the fear of physical harm. Our doctors and nurses are among the hardest working people in any community. The very least they can expect is to be able to care for us in a comfortable, supportive, and above all safe, environment.