Some good news for Emergency Workers in Scotland. Here is hoping it comes down South sometime soon.
The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 makes it a specific offence to assault, obstruct or hinder someone providing an emergency service or assisting an emergency worker in an emergency situation.
Healthcare unions are now looking to Westminster to see similar powers introduced to cover staff working in the rest of Britain.
Workers covered in Scotland under the act include police, fire and ambulance staff, medical practitioners, midwives, social workers enforcing child protection orders or emergency protection authorisations, mental health officers and prison officers responding to emergency situations.
Police, firefighters, ambulance workers and medical staff in hospitals are covered whenever they are on duty, as well as when they are actually dealing with emergencies.
The maximum penalty will be nine months' imprisonment, a fine of £5,000, or both.
More serious assaults will continue to be prosecuted under existing laws.
The Scottish executive has given itself the option of adding more groups to the list in the future if necessary.
The minister for finance and public service reform, Tom McCabe said: “People who deal with emergencies provide an invaluable service to our society. We believe they should be able to go about their work without fear of attack or intimidation – and that is why we brought forward this legislation.”
The Royal College of Nursing had broadly supported the Scottish executive's emergency workers (Scotland) bill, while pressing for a more inclusive approach to the protection of all healthcare workers.
Sheelagh Brewer, senior employment relations adviser of the RCN, said Tony Blair's government now needed to introduce similar legislation to protect healthcare staff working outside Scotland from violence.
“It is a first,” Ms Brewer said of the new legislation. “It is one of the things we included in our recent election manifesto to ensure there is an automatic offence for assaulting nurses.”
The last government resisted introducing legislation specifically designed to deal with crimes committed against public sector workers.
However, it has made some progress. Last year, the NHS counter fraud and security management service set up an in-house legal protection unit to support nurses and other healthcare staff to take out private prosecutions where the police or Crown Prosecution Service decides not to take a case forward.
This led to the first antisocial behaviour order being issued against a member of the public last summer, to prevent him harassing NHS staff. Norman Hutchins was barred from entering any medical centres after 47 incidents in which he caused alarm to staff in his bid to obtain gowns and surgical masks.