by Julie Bindel
Thursday, 20
February 2020
Debate
11:45

Stop making new laws on offensive speech

New powers designed to protect NHS staff are open to abuse
by Julie Bindel
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that from April ‘new’ protections will be in place to counter the ‘appalling abuse’ that NHS workers face

To deflect the attention away from our crumbling NHS, including the hellish conditions under which staff are currently working, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has come up with a cunning plan to protect NHS workers from racist, homophobic and sexist abuse.

Hancock has announced that from April ‘new’ protections will be in place to counter the ‘appalling abuse’ that NHS workers face. The NHS has ‘joined forces’ with the police and Crown Prosecution Service and police have been granted more powers to investigate and prosecute these cases.

I have read and re-read Hancock’s statement, and can find absolutely nothing new in it.

Staff can currently refuse to treat non-critical patients who are verbally aggressive or physically violent towards them. So what are these ‘special powers’ that police now have?

We all know that NHS staff can be in the firing line from drunk, angry and mentally ill/distressed patients in A&E and on the ward, and of course it is horrendous when, on top of the nightmare of cuts, understaffing, lengthy and stressful shifts and patients being stacked up in corridors waiting for beds, a worker has this experience.

Racism — for example if a white patient refuses treatment from black and brown medics — is not uncommon and should be dealt with robustly. But we can address these issues with the laws and policies already in place, rather than introducing something which is open to misuse by the blue-fringed brigade that take offence at pretty much anything.

I was recently asked to leave a local Labour Party meeting because my ‘bigotry and transphobia’ might ‘trigger’ the non-binary, polyamorous, asexual sapiosexuals in the room. I was told they had a ‘policy’ of excluding anyone who has ‘caused offence’. I ignored the request, but sat there wondering how long it might be before I am refused treatment by a medic who is a member of the Trans Taliban.

Laws and ‘no-tolerance’ policies to keep staff safe from violence and abuse are crucial. Adding an unnecessary layer so that anyone ‘offended’ can refuse to provide a service as crucial as health care — whether life and death or not — is ridiculous. I have been deeply offended on many an occasion at bigotry towards me from people I meet in the course of doing my job, but I would only refuse to engage if the bar was somewhat higher than that.

We should undoubtedly criminalise and stamp out racism, threats of violence and verbal aggression towards front-line workers. But stop pretending that causing offence or being rude is somehow a matter for the courts.

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