Staff of the UK's National Health Service (NHS) can deny non-emergency care to sexist and racist patients under new rules that will be implemented starting in April, according to Sky News.
Currently, staff can refuse to provide non-critical treatment to patients who are verbally aggressive or physically violent to them. The new rules will extend these protections to any form of harassment, bullying or discrimination, including homophobic, sexist or racist remarks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Tuesday stronger measures to investigate abuse and harassment towards NHS staff, writing "no act of violence or abuse is minor."
"Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out. I've seen it for myself in A&Es, on night shifts, and on ambulances," said Hancock, according to Sky News, adding that he was "horrified that any member of the public would abuse or physically assault a member of our NHS staff but it happens too often."
A new joint agreement with police and the Crown Prosecution Service will give police more powers to investigate and prosecute cases in which NHS staff are the victim of a crime.
"All assault and hate crimes against NHS staff must be investigated with care, compassion, diligence and commitment," said Hancock. The 2019 NHS Staff Survey for England showed that over a quarter of NHS workers were bullied, harassed or abused in one year. Four in 10 workers felt unwell due to work-related stress.
In five years, the percentage of staff who say they have experienced discrimination has risen from 5.8% to 7.2%, with racism as the most common form of discrimination, according to The Telegraph.
Staff at ambulance, mental health and learning disability trusts were worst affected by abuse and violence, according to the survey.
Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary of Unison, a union that represents public service workers, responded to Hancock's statements, pointing out that he spoke "many months after he promised to tackle violence" and that the survey showed that there's been "no noticeable change," according to Sky News.