Health secretary Frank Dobson last week promised to publish figures on the number of assaults on staff when he launched a joint campaign to stamp out violence in the NHS.

He said current levels of physical and verbal abuse against NHS staff were a 'disgrace'. Trusts will be obliged to collect and publish figures on assaults, which will provide the basis for national targets to cut violence.

Mr Dobson warned that the national figures to be published by the Department of Health should be used sensibly. While people were entitled to know the figures, there was little point in comparing hospitals in one town with one in an inner city area.

Mr Dobson introduced new guidelines, produced jointly by the NHS Executive and the Royal College of Nursing, which emphasise the legal duty on employers to protect the health and safety of their employees.

He disclosed that the DoH has initiated a 'cross-government drive against violence to the NHS' which involves the Home Secretary, the Attorney General and the Lord Chancellor.

He suggested that attacks on NHS staff should be treated 'as seriously as assaults on the police,' with increased numbers of prosecutions.

Mr Dobson said: 'I don't want to appear like Genghis Khan in this matter but I honestly believe that people need to be less understanding about it.'

'People can be as drunk, or as snorted up as they like - they don't have the right to assault staff,' he added.

Mr Dobson suggested no model of security could suit every hospital environment.

'I am very much of the feeling that it is horses for courses. What will work in one place many not work in another,' he said.

Safer Working in the Community: a guide for NHS managers and staff on reducing the risks from violence and aggression is available on e-mail: ddb@psychology.nottingham.ac.uk