Breaking Bromley Croydon Lambeth London Southwark

Known as Operation Cavell, the initiative will see a senior officer review all reports of assaults and hate crime against NHS staff

Following a three-month pilot, the National Health Service (NHS), Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have been working in partnership to launch the scheme today (Wednesday, 31 March) which aims to increase convictions and protect NHS staff on the frontline.

As well as senior police officer involvement, senior welfare and support staff within the NHS will be brought on board to help those who have been a victim of such crimes.

A pilot scheme took place across five London boroughs between October 2020 and January 2021. Those were Lambeth, Southwark, Bromley, Croydon and Sutton. The pilot looked at 63 investigations and had a 26.45% charge rate. Before Op Cavell, over a three month period, 30 NHS and London Ambulance Service (LAS) assaults were recorded and revealed only 6.6% resulted in a charge.

One of the biggest challenges officers and NHS staff face is that many NHS workers feel being assaulted is “part of the job”. Prior to the pilot, 50% of NHS staff in London who were assaulted would not support an investigation whereas the last three months has seen that number drop to 25%.

Chief Inspector Luke Mooney, from the MPS, who led the pilot, said: “We are determined to make sure our NHS staff feel confident to report assaults or hate crime. There is no place in society for such abuse. Operation Cavell, in partnership with CPS, will be focussed on ensuring offenders are brought to justice in line with assault on emergency worker legislation.

“Over the past three months alone (Jan – March 21) NHS and LAS colleagues have been punched, kicked, spat at, urinated on, strangled, thrown across a room, had faeces thrown on them and been racially abused.

“Op Cavell was launched to change this during a time where the NHS are facing pressures like never before during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The roll-out will see cases of assault on NHS staff be treated the same way that Operation Hampshire does for assaults on police officers, which has seen charge rates in some boroughs as high as 75%. The process will ensure all crimes are dealt with by specialised and dedicated police investigators.

London’s Chief Crown Prosecutors Lionel Idan and Barry Hughes said jointly: “Mainstreaming Operation Cavell across London can only be good news for our dedicated frontline NHS workers, who must be able go about their critical work without threat of physical harm or abuse. This strong multi-agency response should leave no one in any doubt about the serious consequences of attacking NHS workers either physically or verbally. CPS London will not hesitate to prosecute those responsible.”

Martin Machray, Joint Regional Chief Nurse for NHS England & Improvement – London, said: “The last year of the pandemic has shone a light on the selflessness and dedication of NHS staff. All our staff should be able to come into work without fear of violence, injury or abuse. We therefore welcome the rollout of this important initiative across mental health services in London and we hope it will help protect and support our wonderful colleagues.”

Paul Grzegorzek, Security Contract Manager at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, is one individual who faces the prospect of assault at work on a regular basis.

Paul said: “Day to day we have a lot of patients coming into the hospital suffering with a range of conditions, including mental health issues. Given the lockdown, people have been more reluctant to seek help from the NHS, and so are sometimes waiting until breaking point before coming in.

“We have also seen an uptick in intoxicated patients. These people sometimes become violent when staff are trying to help them because they are simply too intoxicated to understand what is happening.

“As security, we must balance the safety of patients, staff and visitors whilst also showing compassion for patients and their situation. However, when people are knowingly being abusive to the staff or other patients, there is no excuse.

“Op Cavell is an initiative we very much welcome. We had an incident in 2019 where one of our supervisors was slashed across the palm with a knife while facing off against a violent patient. The suspect was disarmed and detained, the police were called and the suspect was found guilty and given an 18 month sentence. We are confident in reporting incidents such as this to police, and welcome this extra support.”

Matt Cheyne, Security Site Manager at Croydon Hospital, has also seen a drastic improvement in convictions of those responsible for criminal damage and assault on staff at his workplace.

Matt said: “Sadly we do sometimes see the worst of people. Sometimes whilst in a fit of rage, people can pick up medical bottles or drip stands, even keyboards, and use them to attack our staff.

“Most recently, a male mental health nurse was tending to a lady who became inexplicably hostile and swung her handbag at the nurse. It was shocking and completely unwarranted.

“However, we are pleased to say that we had a new regular patient who has recently been arrested due to Op Cavell. This patient caused around £15,000 of criminal damage, assaulted many of my team and was just a generally abusive.

“It took us a while originally to get any form of outcome as at first, as police were trying to secure the facts about whether the patient had a mental health issue, which would obviously change things in terms of securing a conviction. However, following a review, this person was arrested and is now on remand until their court date.

“It was magic! We would very much like to see the op rolled out more widely to support hospital staff.”

Commander Melanie Dales who leads the Met’s operation, said: “This year, the NHS has faced an unbelievable challenge, and to know that on top of that many of them have suffered assaults and abuse at work is heart-breaking.

“The pilot has shown great improvement in conviction rates and I hope that by rolling it out across the Met that number will increase significantly. The stories you have heard from the brave individuals herein show how this operation is vital in helping to bring about convictions to those who commit these offences.

“We work tirelessly to ensure that any assaults on our officers are looked into and our emergency service colleagues in the NHS are no different. There is still a long way to go to ensure that nobody should go to work and face the threat of assault or abuse.”

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Bates, from Sussex Police, said: “I was delighted to hear that Op Cavell is now being launched by our colleagues in the Met. Our fellow emergency service colleagues do an amazing job, often in really tough conditions, and the partnerships we build through this initiative will help ensure they can do their work more safely.

“Since we launched Operation Cavell in 2016 with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust as our partner, we have extended to work with other NHS colleagues to improve the support we offer to staff who are threatened or assaulted during the course of their duties and to hold the perpetrators to account. Violence against staff is not ‘just part of the job’ – we are sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of service users, but where individuals choose to engage in criminal behaviour against the staff who are there to care for them, it is right they are held to account.”