Drunk patient prosecuted for nurse assault under new law

Mark Gallagher was being treated at Hull Royal Infirmary for a head injury he sustained while under the influence of alcohol when he attacked a nurse who was with another patient in a nearby cubicle.

“She felt helpless and it has made her more wary of intoxicated patients”

James Byatt

He grabbed her by the wrists and pushed her by her shoulders during the incident in the early hours of 16 February.

When security staff were called to the scene to escort Mr Gallagher off the premises, he then punched one and kicked another before he was arrested by police.

The nurse is said to have been left “shaken and nervous” as a result of the attack.

On Monday, Mr Gallagher appeared at Hull Magistrates’ Court to admit three counts of assault.

He was prosecuted under the Assaults of Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which came into force at the end of last year.

The offender has been placed under a night-time curfew and been ordered to pay compensation.

Magistrates were told Mr Gallagher had been drinking with a relative and was taken to the hospital’s emergency department with a head injury after he had fallen over.

Mr Gallagher went for scans which came back clear, but staff at the hospital allowed him to stay in a cubicle to “sleep it off”.

James Byatt, prosecuting, told the court that while a nurse was treating a patient nearby, Mr Gallagher came in and assaulted her.

Mr Byatt said: “She said it had left her shaken and nervous.

“She felt helpless and it has made her more wary of intoxicated patients in the future,” he added.

“He is extremely remorseful for his stupidity and his actions”

Mike Farr

Mike Farr, defending, said Mr Gallagher, who has no previous convictions, had no recollection of the attack and had been taking medication for depression and anxiety, which he believed had reacted with the alcohol he drank.

“He is extremely sorry for his behaviour,” Mr Farr told the court. “He is extremely remorseful for his stupidity and his actions.”

Lynda Carmichael, chair of the magistrates, told Mr Gallagher: “It is a very, very serious offence.

“These are people in their workplace and, as such, deserve not only the respect, but certainly to be safe in their workplace.”

Ron Gregory, security manager of Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, said the prosecution under the new legislation should serve as a warning to others.

He noted that more than 70 assaults by members of the public were reported by staff at the trust’s Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital in the past 12 months.

Mr Gregory said: “Anyone who is violent or abusive to any member of staff at our hospitals should be in no doubt they will face the appropriate punishment for their crime.

“They do not come to work to be assaulted, abused, spat at or attacked”

Ron Gregory

“Our staff come to work every day to help others,” he said. “They do not come to work to be assaulted, abused, spat at or attacked and we will not tolerate any such behaviour.”

In wake of the attack, the trust has teamed up with Humberside Police in a new initiative called Operation Victor to crack down on offenders who commit crimes at its hospitals or attack staff.

Lee Edwards, chief inspector of Humberside Police, said: “Any assault on an emergency worker is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“Our priority first and foremost is to protect and help the public, and attacks like these should not happen,” he added. 

“If anyone thinks they can get away with assaulting an emergency worker, they are sorely mistaken, as they will now face much tougher penalties for such actions,” Mr Edwards warned. 

As previously reported by Nursing Times, the new legislation means that the maximum prison term for anyone who attacks certain public servants in the course of their duties in England and Wales, has doubled from six to twelve months.

It also means that judges must consider harsher sentences for a range of other offences if the victim is an emergency worker.