This week tragic news has emerged that a healthcare assistant had been stabbed to death at the psychiatric hospital at which she worked. Sharon Wall, had just finished a night shift when she was murdered by a patient at the Wotton Lawn facility in Gloucester – a low-security unit for male patients who have a history of serious mental illness.
This is a terribly sad incident, and though cases as serious as this are rare, they highlight another side of care: the all too seldom discussed dangers facing those working with some of our most vulnerable and challenging citizens. Indeed, almost 700 staff reported being assaulted in 2012-2013 in the NHS alone, never mind the massed ranks of the private sector, many of whose staff work in similarly high risk environments.
In many respects the relative lack of coverage associated with this surprising figure is due to the fact there is an almost continual stream of media reportage on the abuse suffered by care home residents at the hands of their carers. Such occurrences are absolutely reprehensible, and rightly are thoroughly condemned. Yet, with the spotlight on these incidents, we all too frequently neglect the risks and hazards to which those working in care are exposed. We must not forget that healthcare workers – particularly those working in more challenging environments – are placed at risk on a daily basis. In their capacity as carers they come into contact with highly demanding individuals, interacting with those who may be mentally unstable and as a result violent or combative towards them. Added to this there are also the risks of contagious illnesses and potentially damaging hospital equipment such as needles and x-rays. Make no mistake, those caring for the vulnerable and challenging citizens in our society don’t have it easy.
While working in care can be hard for such reasons, it can also be hugely rewarding. Ms Wall’s family themselves said that she died doing the job she loved. The tributes being paid to her paint the picture of a much loved person. What this tragic case should remind us is that we owe it to carers such as Ms Wall to recognise the fantastic work they do in what are often difficult and testing circumstances, and to be mindful of minimising the dangers they face in their workplace every day. No doubt that will be examined in forensic detail in the weeks to come.
At this sad time of loss, our thoughts are with Ms Wall’s family and our gratitude goes to all of those, like she did, who care for people that many in society forget exist.