TWO specially-trained police officers will be permanently stationed in Blackburn’s emergency department from next week, after an increase in physical violence and verbal abuse towards staff.
The £80,000 pilot project was agreed after frustrated police chiefs held talks with NHS officials over the number of call-outs to the Royal Blackburn Hospital - often to deal with drunk and abusive patients who frequently attend A&E.
Officers are called to the department three-times-a-day on average, which resulted in 1,230 police calls in the year to September 2013.
Although other towns and cities have had police stationed in their emergency wards at weekends and during the festive period, this is thought to be the most extensive scheme in the country.
The officers will start their role on Tuesday and become fully operational after a two-week induction period, with the project set to be reviewed in 12 months.
From Thursday to Sunday they will work shifts from 8am to 4am, then day shifts from Monday to Wednesday.
NHS and union bosses have welcomed the move, saying it will provide valuable support for staff and enable them to concentrate on treating patients, rather than having to deal with aggression and verbal abuse.
The Royal College of Nursing recently raised concerns that a third of staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) had reported being harassed, bullied or abused, which was among the highest rates in the country.
Meanwhile, data published by NHS Protect showed there were 114 reported assaults on staff in 2012/13, which was an increase on the 84 incidents in 2011/12.
Lancashire Constabulary said the officers would provide much more than just a security presence.
Chief Inspector Justin Srivastava said: “These two officers will be highly skilled individuals trained to identify complex frequent attenders at A&E who can benefit from other services.
“This is an extremely positive initiative across the health economy aimed at dealing with the root cause of the problem rather than treating the symptoms of the problem and thus allow resources to be utilised better both from a hospital and police perspective.”
The officers’ prime focus will be to identify and manage disruptive patients and encourage them to access other health, community and social care organisations such as mental health, housing, adult social care and substance misuse services, instead of A&E.
ELHT has been in special measures since last summer when NHS chief Sir Bruce Keogh made damning criticisms of the way it was run.
Many of the concerns focussed on the emergency department, which is the busiest in the North West and has repeatedly struggled to cope with the volume of patients seeking care.
Charles Thomson, clinical director of the emergency department, said the officers would help address some of the concerns raised by Sir Bruce, by identifying many of the patients who repeatedly turn up at hospital unnecessarily, and help them access other services.
“It also gives our staff increased support on site and increases police efficiency”, he added.
Karen Narramore, branch secretary for the Unison union, said: “The majority of patients don’t behave badly, but there are some who do, particularly those who have had too much to drink or might be frustrated when they are waiting for treatment.
“This has been a long-standing issue and I think this is a positive move that should free up staff so they can focus more on patient care. Staff will also be reassured to have police there as it will make them feel much more secure.”