No Hiding Place for Abuse or Violence

Article excerpt

Byline: ALLAN MASSIE

IS our society more violent than it used to be? There is a good deal of evidence to suggest it is. The latest comes from NHS Greater Glasgow. Its records show there are some three assaults on staff every day - that's more than a thousand a year.

Accordingly, the decision has been taken to refuse treatment to patients who abuse or assault staff, except in the case of an emergency.

Such a patient will first be yellow-carded and if trouble continues will get the red card. This will mean refusal of treatment in hospitals and GPs' surgeries and clinics.

Some will be shocked at the idea of doctors refusing to treat patients. Fair enough, but abusive and aggressive behaviour directed at nurses, doctors and other NHS staff is surely every bit as shocking.

Dr Phil Munro, A& E consultant at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, is justified in declaring that staff should be able to work 'without fear of intimidation, abuse or violence', which is not the case at present.

Whether or not this will work is another matter.

Reports of sheriff court cases suggest that most assaults on hospital staff, and most examples of abusive behaviour, are probably one-offs, the violent or abusive patient being at the time out of his or her head on alcohol or drugs.

There are difficulties in assessing the extent of violence in society. One is perception, the other the statistics we are offered.

Take perception first. The sight of bouncers outside city centre bars is clear evidence that these establishments have to be on their guard against violence.

Since pubs did not find it necessary to hire such people 30 or 40 years ago, you make take this as proof that society is more violent now.

You may be right. On other hand, the presence of these forbiddinglooking fellows reflects a change in drinking patterns since the licensing laws were liberalised in the late 1970s.

Before then, pubs closed at 10pm or in winter in some country districts as early as 9.30pm. So we arrived in the pub sober and in need of a drink, and left at closing time with a carryout to be consumed at home.

Now, young people drink at home first and go out to the pub about the time we used to be obliged to leave it. We might have emerged somewhat inebriated, they arrive in that condition. No wonder bouncers are deemed necessary.

Then take statistics. Recent figures from the Crime and Society Foundation tell us, for instance, that people living in the poorest communities are six times more likely to be murdered than those in the richest neighbourhoods, and that we are 176 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery with a single ticket, a statistic that doesn't tell you much. …