A SCOTS A&E department has been forced to turn to ASBOs in a desperate bid to keep staff and the ill safe from violent patients.
Staff at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee are so sick of being abused by aggressive drunks that they have signed a groundbreaking deal with the council to slap antisocial behaviour orders on offenders.
Eleven troublemakers have already been warned under the scheme, the first of its kind in Scotland.
Two have been given final warnings and could even be banned from A&E if they offend again.
Breaching the ASBO could get them five years in jail.
Now A&E staff are so pleased with the results that they are calling on other Scottish hospitals to follow their lead.
Emergency departments across Scotland have been turned into a warzone at weekends.
Drunken victims of accidents, fights and gang battles flood A&E and some of them take their aggression and frustration out on staff.
Ninewells has seen some of the worst trouble over the years.
On one night, the back of an ambulance was vandalised and a patient threatened to slash a nurse.
Doctors trying to save lives have been kicked, punched, spat on and shouted at.
The A&E department at Ninewells has now imposed a virtual zero tolerance policy on aggressive patients and their friends and families.
Consultant Bill Morrison said his department and the city council had agreed a “very low threshold” for taking action against troublemakers.
He said: “We see quite a few cases of verbal aggression. If it falls short of getting the police involved, we report it and the individual can be served with an ASBO.
“If someone has come in and been particularly nasty or shouting and then walks out we will report it and they can get collared.
“I can think of one incident when a gentleman came in here and we advised him that he should see his own GP. He started shouting at the top of his voice. He did not threaten anyone but slammed doors and caused alarm to staff.”
Morrison said even though the troublemaker then left A&E, he was reported, tracked down and warned about his behaviour by police.
Morrison, who is head of the College of Emergency Medicine in Scotland, admitted he was “a bit sceptical” about the ASBO scheme at first but now believes other hospitals should consider using it.
He said: “People who have had this have been pretty shell-shocked.”
The system can also save valuable time because staff do not have to attend court or write witness statements.
But Morrison – Scotland’s top A&E doctor – warned that the use of ASBOs did not mean letting people off being arrested, charged, and taken to court if property was damaged or staff assaulted or threatened.
He said: “If someone comes in here and is offensive and outrageous I will tell the police to take them away.
“I will not put my staff at risk.”
One of Morrison’s colleagues, Shoban Thakore, previously reported being punched, kicked, spat on and shouted at by patients.
He said at the time: “There is definitely a rise in the numbers of the people being abusive, particularly when they are under the influence of alcohol.
Four years ago, the hospital became one of the first in the country to introduce security guards.
One of them, Paul Krighton, reported that in just two hours he dealt with vandalism to the back of an ambulance, a patient who threatened to slash a nurse, and a woman who was aggressive towards staff.
The hospital handed out 1,000 personal alarms to staff following attacks on a nurse and radiographer in the car park which were blamed on drug addicts.
A spokesman for Dundee City Council confirmed that they and NHS Tayside had agreed that ASBOs “will be taken out against disruptive individuals to help prevent further incidents”.
The spokesman said: “Eleven people have been reported for anti social behaviour at Ninewells Hospital’s A&E unit.
“None of these reports has resulted in an ASBO being issued, but all have been interviewed and warned about their behaviour.”
The spokesman suggested the warnings alone were helping to reduce trouble. He said: “Figures show that only two of those 11 had to be interviewed again after a further incident.
“They were given a final warning.”
Convener of Dundee City Council’s housing committee Jimmy Black, who signed the deal on behalf of the council, said: “I am pleased that this ground-breaking initiative is having the desired effect in deterring people from being disruptive, aggressive or abusive at Ninewells Hospital.”
REPORT: Peter Laing