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Thursday 20th October 2016

Body armour for frontline workers in the NHS

10th July 2008

Writing in the Guardian, Jenni Russell says A&E departments remain distressing holding pens for the sick and vulnerable.


Hospitals worried about staff being attacked in A&E departments are ordering body armour for frontline workers.

But if it’s so hazardous a place for staff, what must it be like for patients?

In the past, London casualty departments were always a “peculiar kind of hell.” Drunks, swearing youths, crying toddlers and glaring security guards made them intimidating places.

Having returned to A&E recently, I assumed the money poured into the NHS in the intervening years would have made a visible difference. Within minutes of walking into casualty reception, I discovered I was wrong.

The same atmosphere of fear and unease remained.

No-one was expressing comfort to the sick, offering assistance or attempting to quieten the rowdy.

Yet it is widely known that people respond to cues from those around them, a fact visibly demonstrated by the contrast between the waiting room and the casualty ward, where even the most unruly reacted to the kindness of staff.

The government raises concerns about how people interact with one another in public places, yet state-run institutions continue to abdicate their responsibility for setting civilized norms.

A&E should endeavour to be welcoming and safe. There remains a need for security guards but staff must take responsibility to check on patients’ wellbeing and insist on mutual consideration.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said the attitude of staff and their warmth towards patients should be a new priority for the NHS.

He’s right. But that includes A&E and must begin right at the hospital door.


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