Nearly 1,000 attacks on NHS staff during the Covid-19 pandemic in the north-east of Scotland have been recorded, shocking new figures have revealed.
There were a total of 961 attacks on workers at NHS Grampian between April 2020 and March this year – the second-highest of any health board in Scotland.
The figures, which were obtained using Freedom of Information powers, show there were nearly 5,000 attacks NHS staff across Scotland in the 12-month period.
As a result of the new statistics there have been calls for tougher sentences to be imposed on those found guilty of assaulting NHS staff.
Alexander Burnett, the Conservative candidate for Aberdeenshire West, said: “It is absolutely disgraceful to see so many of our NHS heroes in across Grampian being assaulted.
“Assaults against our emergency workers are unacceptable at any time, but these attacks are particularly appalling at a time when they were fighting to protect us from Covid.
“We must guarantee that our key workers will be safe at their work. That is why I am backing plans by the Scottish Conservatives that would double the sentences for those who attack emergency workers to two years.
“As part of our plans to introduce a Victims Law, we will put their needs first once and for all.
“All too often the SNP have made the interests of criminals a priority and taken a soft-touch attitude in our justice system.
“Due to their effective banning of short sentences, it is unlikely many of these attackers of our NHS heroes will have gone to jail, which is wrong.
“If elected, I will be proud to back legislation that will increase sentencing against those who think it is acceptable to assault our emergency workers.”
SNP candidate Fergus Mutch, who is standing against Mr Burnett in Aberdeenshire West, described the attacks as “abhorrent”.
“The SNP strongly condemn abuse and violence in all forms,” he said.
“Attacks on our incredible NHS staff are abhorrent and should be dealt with in the strongest possible terms.
“We owe our local healthcare heroes a huge debt of gratitude for their tireless work and effort throughout the pandemic.
“However, the Scottish Conservatives suggesting that they are the only party who will protect our emergency services reeks of sheer hypocrisy – given they voted against the Emergency Workers Act.
“In contrast, the SNP have always put our NHS workers at the forefront of our policies. That is why we have pledged, if re-elected, to offer NHS workers the highest pay rise in the UK – on top of the £500 ‘thank you’ bonus – as opposed to the insulting 1% offered by the UK government.
“We have also committed to appointing a commissioner to provide an independent voice for victims and witnesses. This follows on from the £75 million we have invested in victim support since 2016.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: “People working in healthcare have a right to be safe in their workplace and violence and aggression are never acceptable in any of our premises. We encourage staff to report all incidents and support them throughout the process.
“It should be remembered that some patients may act in a violent or aggressive manner due to the nature of their medical condition.”
Assaults still high in Highland despite drop of nearly 400
Assaults were still high in NHS Highland over the same period despite a drop of nearly 400 on the previous year.
Across the 2020-21 period, a total of 296 assaults were recorded with 12 of these referred to the police.
The figure is down by 391 on the 687 assaults recorded in the region over the 2019-20 period, although the closure of some sections of NHS services due to the pandemic during the last year meant that less people came into contact with NHS workers.
Councillor Linda Munro, chairwoman of Highland Council’s health, social care and wellbeing committee, said: “The kneejerk reaction to a figure like this, and very understandably, is that we are appalled.
“We are out there clapping for the NHS, praising frontline workers and rightly so.
“The difficulty is that what these guys do 24/7, 365 days of the year is, for the most part, unseen and they work with people in great distress and sometimes people with mental health issues.
“Assault is never ok, but sometimes we can understand it and that is shown in the figures with police involved in 12 of the incidents and not the others.
“But assault is never ok.”
She added: “My heart goes out to both those that are on the receiving side, those that are suffering such mental distress and everything else that they can’t contain themselves, and the families that worry about their loved ones going out to do a frontline job.
“This is not a good way for Highland to be and we want to change this.
“We grow that change from the community up.
“It is about having the right people in the right place, and the right place is definitely in the community, for those in distress so it doesn’t get to this breakpoint level.
“I think this also shows the compassion and understanding of NHS. Only 12 times the police were called and that must have been really alarming for everyone.
“It shows how much they do try to manage, contain and progress from.
“They are doing a fantastic job.”
An NHS Highland spokesman said: “NHS Highland has a zero-tolerance approach to physical attacks on our staff.
“We acknowledge that a number of these cases are a result of distressed patients who are not aware of what they are doing.
“Nevertheless, it is unacceptable for anyone to be physical or verbally assaulted at their work.
“NHS Highland staff are encouraged to report all incidents of assault, regardless of the severity and we have systems in place to support staff who have been subjected to this.”
Island health boards figures also fall
During the 2020-21 period, reports of assault also dropped in island health boards.
Thirteen members of staff were assaulted in the Western Isles, down from 29 the year previous, with one referred to the police.
In Shetland, seven members of staff were assaulted, nine fewer than the year before, with one incident also referred to the police.
Six members of staff were also assaulted in Orkney, down by 50%.