DR MAX PEMBERTON: Punched and kicked at work – but I got off lightly

DR MAX PEMBERTON: As NHS staff get body cameras… Punched and kicked at work — but I got off lightly

  • Paramedics in London and the North East are being given body cameras 
  • Dr Max says he has been kicked and had knives pulled on him during his career
  • NHS psychiatrist won’t tolerate abuse from angry people, who are mostly drunk 

Having just finished working nightshifts in A&E, I can confirm that it takes a special kind of nurse to be able to work in such a pressured, frenetic and stressful environment. While I can cope with a few shifts, I could never work there day in, day out.

The nursing staff there have seen everything and nothing fazes them. I have often said that if there is a nuclear Armageddon, only two things would survive: cockroaches and A&E nurses.

On one of my shifts, a man walked into the minor injuries department and started shouting and swearing for no discernible reason. Within minutes, things had escalated.

The nurse who was assessing him was cornered in the cubicle while security tried to restrain him. He left the department only to return again minutes later and stood in the middle of an area where seriously ill people were being treated close by.

Dr Max Pemberton revealed he has been punched, kicked, threatened and had knives pulled on him during his career (file image)

Everyone turned round as he stumbled and lurched and, unprovoked, took a random swing at one of the doctors who had been standing at a workstation typing up notes.

Staff surrounded him while he ranted and raved, and literally threatened to kill anyone who came near him. Security were scrambled although they were, unbelievably, dealing with a similar incident in reception.

I confess I was a little scared as, surrounded by equipment and sick patients, I realised that this could turn quite ugly.

Unfazed, the nurse in charge — who was about a foot shorter than the intruder and only in her early 30s — walked up to him, introduced herself and calmly, but firmly asked him not to threaten staff or raise his voice because he was disturbing and scaring other patients.

She then escorted him to some seats in the corridor, ascertained what was happening and then sent him on his way, just as security arrived. Needless to say, there was absolutely nothing medically wrong with the man except he was extremely drunk.

Some of the abuse we actually accept. We don’t want it, but it does come with the job. I’ve been hit by demented elderly patients who were scared and confused. I’ve been threatened and sworn at by young people in the throes of psychosis, who didn’t want to come into hospital because they didn’t think anything was wrong.

Just before I went on nights, a nurse on the ward where I work was punched in the face and had a split lip after a patient who was very unwell with bipolar disorder lashed out at her. She was swiftly despatched to A&E to get patched up and within two hours was back on the ward.

These things aren’t nice, but it’s understandable — it’s part of the patient’s illness so we accept it. The thing I take issue with — the thing I won’t tolerate — is the constant barrage of abuse we receive from people who are simply angry and, mostly, drunk.

Dr Max (pictured) said he won’t tolerate the constant barrage of abuse medics receive from people who are angry and, mostly, drunk

One of the few good things about the pandemic is that, for the first time ever, Friday and Saturday nights have been more or less free of the intoxicated morons who clutter up accident and emergency departments.

Now lockdown is easing, they have started to trickle back. I’m dreading the day when restrictions are lifted.

Much is made of the drain on resources that these people represent as they take up time and space in casualty when there’s nothing wrong with them except that they can’t hold their drink. But we don’t talk so much about how difficult they are to deal with.

And don’t think it’s all lager louts and girls in miniskirts drinking alcopops. It’s often the sozzled middle classes — the business men and women who’ve had a dozen too many after work — who are some of the worst offenders.

They shout, scream, make threats, push and shove because they have to wait or because they are told they aren’t a priority. Honestly, I’m sick of it.

There’s no doubt those on the frontline of the NHS bear the brunt of atrocious behaviour. Things are so bad, with assaults on frontline ambulance staff rising by 30 per cent in 2020 compared to 2015, that this week it was announced paramedics in London and the North East are to wear body cameras in an attempt to keep them safe.

This is a fantastic idea. Not only does it send a clear communication to patients that abuse won’t be tolerated, but it also gives a message to staff that the NHS does realise what’s happening and cares about them.

Cameras have to be used for the right purpose, however. I’ve worked in A&Es where staff already have body cameras and the problem is they’re used to record behaviour to justify turning the person away.

They aren’t used, at least not routinely, to prosecute offenders, and this is what needs to start happening if they are going to be a deterrent and protect staff.

During the course of my medical career I’ve been spat at, punched, kicked, threatened and had knives pulled on me. In many ways, I’ve got off lightly, but not a single person has ever been charged or even arrested.

My experiences are far from unique and, I’ve been lucky; I’ve not been badly hurt or injured. It’s hard enough working at the NHS coalface, without having to be afraid when you go to work.

Yes, body cameras are a sadly needed step in the right direction. But let’s make sure offenders are pursued and prosecuted, too.

RIP Holby’s unrealistic heroes

Dr Max said Holby City isn’t realistic, but he loves the idea of all the drama, pensive looks and canoodling with nurses. Pictured: former character Faye Morton, played by Patsy Kensit

The end of Holby City is sad news. Ok, it’s not realistic; I love the idea of all the drama, pensive looks and canoodling with nurses (like former character Faye Morton, played by Patsy Kensit, pictured) in the sluice room, but can confirm this never happens.

At least, not to me. Anyway, it was fantastic light entertainment and did also touch on serious health topics. But there was one aspect of this that many doctors take issue with. The way people came back from the dead. I don’t mean zombie style, I mean after being resuscitated. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the success rate for CPR (as resuscitation is called) on TV was about 75 per cent. In reality, in otherwise fit individuals, the success rate is about 20 per cent. It’s far more traumatic and futile than we’re led to expect on TV, where someone falls to the floor and then the hero jumps on their chest, pushes up and down a few times and then miraculously they wake up.

  • We absolutely have to do more to help children whose education — and prospects — have been blighted by the pandemic. The tragedy is that the lockdown will have a disproportionate impact on the poorest. I don’t want to hear another middle-class person bang on about Black Lives Matter and statues of long-dead figures while the poorest children, many of whom are from BAME backgrounds, have their futures destroyed.

Dr Max recommends new book Foodology (pictured)

The funding package allocated by the Government is pitiful. I want to see schools open and classes continuing to the end of August. They’ve had more than enough time sitting in front of their Xbox while the pandemic raged. It’s catch up time.

Dr Max prescribes…

Mastering gut health  

Foodology, a new book from gastroenterologist Dr Saliha Mahmood Ahmed, winner of MasterChef 2017, takes you on a culinary and scientific journey through the gut, exploring digestion and how what we eat influences the way we feel.

It also includes 50 simple recipes to boost gut health and happiness. 

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