It’s a familiar picture in hospitals across the country. Depressing rooms full of people who have waited up to three hours to launch an unprovoked physical attack on a medical orderly or nurse. “Sometimes you’ve waited so long, you’ve sobered up,” said Dean Mallory, who preferred not to be named. When you get to the front of the queue and it’s your turn to try and knock out a nurse or hopefully a doctor, all the momentum’s gone. It totally defeats the object.” Increasing numbers of patients in A and E holding areas have resorted to assaulting each other out of pure frustration, because they cannot gain access to a medically qualified victim. Lancaster is one of the few Trusts to have set aside special areas for “patient mutual assault therapy” after a study revealing widespread dissatisfaction.
“This eases the burden on waiting times but it can result in extra injuries, which we then have to deal with,” explained James McGregor of the Lancaster Health Services Trust. But Jeanette Smyth, who was waiting in a Lancaster hospital, hoping to head-butt a senior registrar said there was suspicion around the scheme. “It’s a typical NHS manoeuvre to massage the figures,” she said. “I for one wouldn’t get the same therapeutic outcome from nutting a fellow patient, then just going home. For me, putting a trainee orthopaedic surgeon in a headlock or even giving a Chinese burn to a hospital cleaner is the optimum treatment.”
Both sides agree that drink is a big part of the problem. Which is why Lancaster has decided to open licenced bars inside A and E waiting rooms, a move greeted by all. Those waiting say it relieves the frustration, while medical staff says it can mean totally unconscious patients, rather than combative ones. But Dean Mallory points to the ultimate in fast track access, and a couple who won the lottery and went private. “That’s what I call service. They can just turn up totally hammered at the nearest Nuffield and be punching the lights out of a senior consultant within half an hour of signing in.”