Members of Barnsley’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) - which is responsible for healthcare services in the borough - South Yorkshire Police, Barnsley Council and the hospital all attended a meeting last week to discuss rising staff complaints since the pandemic began last March.
Tensions have risen in both the hospital’s A and E department and GPs across the borough, with abuse revealed by employees in recent months.
The ongoing pandemic has brought with it a significant increase in appointments other than typical face-to-face slots, with GPs adjusting to telephone and online consultations - much to the annoyance of patients and councillors who have blasted long waiting times.
According to trade union GMB, reports between March 2020 and April 2021 were up 12 per cent locally - with 14.5 per cent of NHS staff reporting they had experience some form of abuse - leading to ambulance service members to be given body cameras while on shift from June.
It’s prompted a ‘joined-up approach’ in a bid to tackle flare-ups, the meeting’s members were told at Barnsley Town Hall, which will see a tougher stance taken on abusive patients.
Bob Kirton, Barnsley Hospital’s deputy chief executive, told the Chronicle that staff are seeing patients on a ‘priority order’ and condemned the rising abuse reports.
“We fully understand the challenges of the current situation for patients, their families and carers, we will continue to do our best,” he said.
“Our staff are working hard to see as many people as we can based on a priority order.
“However, we feel it is unacceptable for NHS staff, and others in healthcare settings, to face abuse or violence as they go about their work.
“They are treating patients and saving lives.”
As winter approaches - usually the busiest period of the year for the NHS - bosses have appealed to patients to have patience but warned action will be taken on anyone who resorts to being abusive.
Dr Nick Balac, chair of Barnsley CCG, added: “We know that members of the public are getting increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry.
“They need to help us to help each other - what this is about is recognising that there has been some pressure and abuse on health workers, and on others across the system.
“However angry people are, it’s neither their fault nor our fault that we’re in this position.
“We know that as we head into winter, things will get even busier.
“We’re putting lots of things in place and there are a few things that people can help the NHS with, too.
“If we can spread that message of being kind, both to ourselves and those around us, as we all work through these very challenging times.”
Although members agreed contentious waiting times had contributed to patients’ frustrations, funding to create new NHS community-based diagnostic hubs which will offer scans, tests and checks had been approved.
The first one in Barnsley will be based at the Glass Works in the town centre, speeding up some waiting times and make the most of its convenient location.
Coun Jim Andrews, cabinet spokesperson for public health and chair of Barnsley Council’s health and wellbeing board, added: “Our NHS staff are still delivering services in really challenging circumstances and I thank them all for their hard work.
“NHS staff are your family, friends and neighbours, and no matter how you might feel, being abused or threatened should never be part of someone’s job or role, whatever sector they work in.
“The pandemic is not over - it’s easy to forget that real people are trying to do their jobs on the other side of the phone or social media.
“We can all recognise this and be kind and considerate to people.
“There’s no place for hate in Barnsley, and I support this zero-tolerance approach on abusive behaviour towards staff.”
Katherine Mitchell, from the GMB - which represents many healthcare workers in the town - said: “Both verbal and physical attacks on Barnsley’s NHS staff have been rising and we’re urging all NHS trusts and the police to use the full force of the law to prosecute all perpetrators.
“Without prosecutions and sentencing for those who attack our emergency service workers, the assaults will continue.
“No-one should go to work and expect to be assaulted and yet that is the sad reality for many of our members.”