NHS agency takes out private prosecution against mentally ill patient who hit healthcare assistant

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 25 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7052
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A psychiatric inpatient who knocked unconscious a healthcare assistant at an NHS hospital has been given a section 37 hospital order and ordered to pay £75 (€90; $120) compensation to the victim, whose jaw was dislocated.

Prosecutions of psychiatric inpatients are rare because of the problem of establishing that someone who is mentally ill enough to be in hospital is responsible for his or her actions.

Ronald Ashworth, 35, pleaded guilty to causing actual bodily harm in April 2012 at Taunton Hospital in Somerset. A section 37 order requires an offender who is mentally unwell to be detained in hospital rather than in prison.

The prosecution highlights the work of NHS Protect, which stepped in and prosecuted through its Legal Protection Unit (LPU) after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to take criminal proceedings.

The unit advises health organisations on sanctions that can be taken against people who assault, harass, or abuse doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, and other NHS workers. It also takes action over frauds against the NHS.

Richard Hampton, head of local support and development services at NHS Protect, said that the sentence sent “a clear message that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated.”

He added, “Some are surprised it is possible to prosecute a psychiatric inpatient, but this is not the first time a successful prosecution has been achieved in these circumstances. It is for the courts to decide whether an assailant had control over his actions in cases like this.”

Edward Colgan, chief executive of Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said, “We care for patients with a range of mental health needs, sometimes at very stressful times of their lives. But it is completely unacceptable for our staff to be assaulted by patients during the everyday course of their duties.

“This prosecution sends a clear message to people who intentionally abuse NHS staff that the NHS will do everything in its power to take action against offenders. Taking this case on as a private prosecution also sends an important message to NHS staff: we will support you and take action against people who assault the very staff who are there to help them.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7052

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