Employees should not work in fear. NHS organisations can apply for a controlling order against threatening members of the public, advise Judith Sharratt and Gemma Brannigan
Almost every NHS body has one person who persistently harasses their employees. Harassment behaviours include trespassing, making verbal threats, assaulting security staff and silent phone calls.
Each NHS organisation owes a duty of care to staff and incessant harassment can wear staff down and put them at greater risk of violence and psychological disorders. Getting an antisocial behaviour order can be an effective way to stop the behaviour.
ASBOs were introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which allows both the magistrates’ court (criminal) and county courts (civil) to make an ASBO against a person. The criminal courts can impose an ASBO in addition to the sentence imposed for an offence.
An ASBO lists conditions that prohibit the offender from specific antisocial acts or entering into defined geographical areas, and remains in place for a minimum of two years. An ASBO itself does not form part of a criminal record, but breach of an ASBO is a criminal offence, which can result in a custodial sentence.
However, ASBOs can be hard to obtain. Local police teams sometimes have difficulty in dealing with a high volume of low level incidents, which affect a number of individuals across a number of NHS sites. Also, maintaining the motivation to report and record every incident can diminish as the months drag on - along with the chances of obtaining an effective ASBO.
Finally, an ASBO that has been drafted without consultation with the NHS body can result in an order that allows the offender to repeatedly slip through the net.
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HOW NHS SALFORD DEALT WITH A HARRASSER
Eliminating persistent antisocial behaviour can be difficult but NHS Salford has shown it can be done.
Mr X began harassing staff at the primary care trust in 2007.
He made various complaints about staff and followed each complaint with telephone calls, sometimes as many as 40 calls in one day.
He also made persistent calls to treatment rooms which upset other patients and disrupted services.
He made veiled threats to staff, which put them in fear of physical harm.
PCT chief executive Mike Burrows says: “We take the safety of employees very seriously. NHS Salford reported the harassment to the police and began a year long journey of collating evidence to protect our colleagues.
“We also actively supported any staff member who was targeted.”
After pleading guilty to harassment, Mr X was released on court bail to await sentence. After he breached his bail, NHS Salford reported it and actively pursued enforcement of the bail condition with the police.
In April 2009 an ASBO was imposed which prevents Mr X from contacting the PCT except to make appointments on a dedicated telephone line, during a specified hour on one day of the week. In addition, a six month suspended sentence was imposed.
As a result, staff are protected from receiving excessive telephone calls, and the police are armed with the tool that enables them to act quickly and effectively when there is a breach.