THE response to assaults on Scottish NHS staff has been described as an insult after it emerged just one attack in 66 leads to a conviction under the law meant to protect them.
Figures for the last six years also showed a steady decline in the conviction rate under the Emergency Workers Act of 2005, which SNP ministers say provides legal protection for ambulance workers, doctors, nurses and midwives at hospitals and in the community.
Data obtained by the Scottish Conservatives shows there were 12,578 physical assaults against NHS workers in 2017/18, the latest year for which figures are available.
But there were only 190 convictions under the Act that year, or 1.5 per cent. In 2012/13, there were 334 convictions after 10,175 assaults, a rate of 3.3%.
The conviction rate then fell in every year afterwards.
The information was culled from parliamentary answers and freedom of information requests.
The Tories said the record low in convictions, with the rate halving in six years, meant more had to be done to punish those responsible.
A conviction under the Act carries a penalty of up to 12 months in prison, a 10,000 fine, or both.
However the Crown Office may prosecute more serious assaults under the common law, with more serious penalties involved.
Tory health spokesperson Miles Briggs MSP said: It would be unrealistic to expect all reports of NHS assaults to end up in the court room. But the fact just 1.5 per cent of physical assaults result in a conviction is a real insult to our brave healthcare workers.
These are caring professionals who put themselves on the line to protect us the least they should expect is protection by the law. Progress on tackling violence against NHS staff will never be made unless we start getting tough on those responsible for it.
As it stands, under this soft-touch SNP government, someone who attacks an NHS worker has nearly a 100 per cent chance of getting away with it.
The Scottish Government said violence or aggression against NHS staff was absolutely unacceptable and health boards had been told to take appropriate action against those responsible.
A spokesperson said: These figures cover a wide range of incidents and the conviction statistics relate only to prosecutions under the Emergency Workers Act, therefore excluding where serious attacks on staff may have been prosecuted using other offences such as assault, which allow for lengthier sentences.
Police will investigate any allegation of criminal behaviour reported to them and, where appropriate, submit a report to the Procurator Fiscal who makes decisions about prosecutions.
Where a prosecution proceeds, the Court will determine in each case whether or not there should be a conviction based on all the facts before them.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Liberal Democrats highlighted overwork in the health service, calculating 45 million hours had been lost since 2016 in staff absences, with mental health issues cited as the number one reason.
Freedom of information requests made by the party to health boards revealed the number of staff hours lost to illness rose from 11.6m in 2016 to 13.7m in 2018.
Almost every NHS board said the number one reason for absences was anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses.
MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: Being on the front line of our NHS is a rewarding but at times harrowing job. These figures reveal the toll that mental ill health is having on the very staff who have dedicated their careers to looking after others.
The fact that the number one reason for staff absence is mental health conditions should make the Scottish Government pause and think again.
The SNPs waiting time improvement plan has been a total failure. It does not take a brain surgeon to work out that you will not improve performance when staff are forced to work in pressure cooker conditions shift after shift. The SNP cannot continue to rely on the goodwill of hardworking doctors and nurses.
They must make sure that every shift is properly staffed so that NHS staff can get on with the job they are so desperate to do.
The Government said sickness absence rates had been broadly stable since 2007.
A spokesperson said: Those working across our NHS do a tremendous job in what can be exceptionally challenging circumstances. Their safety and wellbeing is of the highest priority and we continue to engage with medical staff to agree further changes to ensure that staff are well rested, fit for work and achieve a good work/life balance.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and everyone should be able to access the right help and support when they need it.
Health boards provide a wide range of services that support the psychological wellbeing of staff, including counselling, employee assistance programmes, and occupational health support.
We are working in partnership with the BMA and Health Boards to continuously improve the working lives of our medical staff.
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