01 March 2006
Against the nurse assault law

Yesterday morning, GMTV was leading with the government’s plan to introduce a £1,000 fine for assaulting NHS staff.

My thoughts:

  • I’m sure there is a problem
  • This won’t solve it
  • The root cause is a lack of will to enforce the law (except under certain circumstances)

So, there is a problem with assaults on NHS staff?
Apparently so.  On one level it is difficult to believe - why assault someone who is trying to help you?  On another, I can believe just about anything is possible when the welfare state, nationalised medicine and a weak criminal justice system combine

So, what’s the Welfare State got to do with this?
I am not quite sure but it seems that wherever it goes, trouble follows.  Brian Micklethwait has some ideas on the mechanism

And nationalised medicine?
Queues - the curse of the NHS.  So bad they have to lie about them.  An acquaintance of mine spent 7 hours in casualty when his 1-year-old daughter broke her leg.  I think he could be forgiven for getting a bit emotional

And you reckon the criminal justice system is weak?
Well, less effective than it used to be.  How else could crime have gone up?

So, this new law won’t solve things?
We already have a law against assaulting NHS staff or anyone else for that matter.  It’s called criminal assault.  If the state is incapable of enforcing the existing law what are the chances it will be able to enforce this one?  And if it were capable of enforcing the existing law it wouldn’t need this one

But, isn’t there the argument that these types of “targeted” laws are more effective?
There may well be statistical evidence to back it up.  Unfortunately, one of the iron laws of politics is that as soon as you start using a statistical relationship to guide policy the statistical relationship starts to break down.

The other problem with laws like this is where it leaves the rest of us.  With a lower level of protection, one assumes

What makes you think that statistical relationships break down?
The classic example is the Phillips Curve.  Actually, that is the only one I can think of off the top of my head but it is a bit of a corker.  Some time in the late 1960s, someone (Phillips presumably) noticed that there seemed to be a relationship between inflation and unemployment: the higher the inflation, the lower the unemployment.  So, politicians increased inflation in the hope of lower unemployment - at which point the relationship broke down and they got both higher inflation and higher unemployment

What laws does the state have the will to enforce?
Any law that can be applied against people with money.  Taxes, smoking bans, planning laws, health and safety, for instance

Why does the state lack the will?
I am not quite sure.  My best guess is that for a good 40 years now, the state has been gripped by victimitis - the belief that people who do bad things are in fact victims of the (apparently) law-abiding and respectable.  Perhaps the result of reading too many whodunnits, who knows.  Anyway, the result is that the state will do almost anything to avoid arresting, prosecuting, convicting or punishing the perpetrators.  Instead it spends most of its time trying to convince criminals to become better people, not that this has been noticeably successful

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  1. I understand that Matt Williams is proposing The Emergency Workers (Protection) act via a private members bill. I suspect this is the same thing - although the piece I saw related to firefighters. So, are firefighters not protected by the offences against the persons act?

    As you say, if they can’t or won’t enforce this, why would they do so with new legislation?

    Posted by Longrider on 06 March 2006 at 02:03pm

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