The NHS constitution recognises that staff have the right to work in a safe environment, free from violence. Staff are saying that they will not accept violence or abuse as part of the job, and they are demonstrating that by reporting violence. In 2007-08, the number of criminal sanctions following cases of assault in the acute sector increased by 13 per cent.
The NHS security management service has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Association of Chief Police Officers. It encourages trusts to agree a protocol with their local police on how they can work together. The SMS has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure the effective prosecution of cases that involve violence and abuse against NHS staff. This is a matter for local management, but the hon. Lady shows great concern about the issue which I believe is felt across the House. I am happy to supply her with as much information as I can.
We are aware of the concern that alcohol causes staff, especially in accident and emergency units, and of how it infringes on their management of other patients as well as of the patient who has the alcohol problem at the time. Continual work is being done on the matter with the SMS, which continues to consider figures on that troubling subject.
The number of violent attacks on Shropshire ambulance crews continues to increase, as does the number across the west midlands, so much so that Shropshire crews have had to resort to buying their own stab-proof vests. I have written to the chief executive of West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust asking for the vests to be provided by the service. The reply is that the service is currently reviewing the situation. That review has been going on for some months. Is it not time that the Government spoke to West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust and ensured that stab-proof vests are made available, in order that ambulance crews can do their duties and feel safe and their families know that they are safe?
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. It is up to the service to look at that, but I believe that the local and national standards that we, the police and all the agencies concerned are applying in respect of the worrying vulnerability of all our public sector workers will result in the correct policy, which will be managed locally, because that is how all such matters must be looked at in local decision making.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Scottish Parliament introduced the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, which offers legal protection to front-line health service staff such as doctors, ambulance personnel and A and E nurses. Do we have any thoughts about introducing similar legislation in this Parliament?
I am sorry to say that the Minister was very selective in her comments about how many assaults on NHS staff there were in 2007-08. The truth is that 12,500 staff who had gone to work to care for the community in this country were assaulted by cowards, and that criminal sanctions—I stress that they were not prosecutions, but sanctions, including some that were just cautions—were applied in fewer than 700 cases. Where is the zero tolerance that this Government promised to protect our emergency services?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that concerns the entire House. When increases in violence against our front-line staff continue, it is a matter for us all to address, in order to get the prosecutions, which is why we work with the Crown Prosecution Service and, in particular, with the Association of Chief Police Officers. That is an area for the Crown Prosecution Service, but it is not an area that we dismiss in any shape or form, and it would be wrong to give that impression. We are talking about serious measures for serious times, for our hard-working front-line staff.