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Wednesday, June 07, 2006


There was a moment of confusion in yesterday's Plenary when the Deputy Presiding Officer had to clear up a misappehension that some people might have had that the Assembly may be a circus. As it happened it occurred during my speech on the Post Office and, even though I had a colourful tie on, I did not think that it amounted to a full blown clown's outfit.

I was just starting to get into my stride when Mick Bates hung up a poster behind me calling for local Post Offices to be saved:

Peter Black: I will start with a quote, by Tony Blair, as it happens. In June 2000, he wrote:

‘Britain’s post offices are a vital part of the fabric of our country. While 28 million people are served every week at Post Office counters, post offices are more—much more—than just businesses. Especially in rural areas, and in disadvantaged parts of our towns and cities—’

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. I am sorry to interrupt you, Peter, but, Mick, it is not necessary to hold up that placard. This is not a circus; this is a National Assembly debate. Can you put it down, please?

Peter Black: It probably clashed with my tie, anyway.

For one dreadful moment I thought the DPO was going to tell me that it was out of order to quote Tony Blair in the chamber. Conservatve AM, Jonathan Morgan, had a different sort of problem in a later debate on the safety of public sector workers. He launched into a graphic description of the problems caused by drink related violence:

Jonathan Morgan: I welcome this debate, and I echo Sandy Mewies’s view that this is about supporting front-line staff. That is a stark recognition of where we are in terms of the national health service, because we know that the number of incidents of violence against members of medical teams has increased. In the past year, roughly 290 attacks were carried out against ambulance staff, 134 of which resulted in injury. Often, ambulance staff face difficult circumstances because they have to deal with a variety of dangerous situations, which is somewhat different to the experiences of other front-line medical staff.


The number of attacks in Wales has increased to just short of 5,000, although, admittedly, these include a whole range of attacks that could be committed. The fact that the Minister for Health and Social Services says that the issue is as much about prevention as it is about trying to prosecute people, once offences have been committed, demonstrates a lack of understanding. In many circumstances, there will be people for whom violence is commonplace, whether it involves mouthing off at a member of medical staff or being drunk or high on drugs. You cannot do much to prevent those people from committing acts of violence, but we must ensure that NHS trusts prosecute them, that such people feel the full weight of the law, and that such incidents are not just dismissed because these people are drunk or high on drugs. I welcome anything that we can do to ensure that NHS trusts protect members of staff who work in our hospitals, but we need to examine the level of security arrangements that exist within hospitals in Wales. That is essential if we are to promote a zero-tolerance attitude.

Those of us with long memories thought back to a previous member of Mr. Morgan's own Conservative Group who had a drink problem, though he never indulged in the sort of antics described here. Nevertheless, Jonathan had a harsh remedy:

People in the medical profession face a range of abuse and attacks. Ambulance staff are perhaps put in the most dangerous situations, and they are ill-equipped to deal with the situations that they face. I wish to make a suggestion to the Minister for Health and Social Services, which he may not like, which is that I think that ambulance staff should be equipped with CS gas. That may sound rather extreme, but if you consider the variety of circumstances in which NHS ambulance staff are expected to operate, such as looking after people who have been injured in some post-football-match riot, they need effective measures to ensure that they are not attacked. That may be a measure that the Assembly Government could consider, but, by and large, we have a long way to go with this issue, because NHS staff are still very much under threat in hospitals. When they are there to deliver front-line care, the training for which has been provided for many years, and have demonstrated the extent of their commitment, it is our duty to ensure that they are protected to the ultimate level of the law in terms of prosecuting those people who offend, and to ensure that we support the victims via the various means at our disposal.

I wonder if he asked the ambulance staff if they want to be equipped with CS gas. It rather sounded like they are operating in the middle of a war zone. Maybe, he should talk to his colleague David Davies AM MP on the provision of Tasers for NHS staff.
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