After the WannaCry cyber-attack in 2017 that had a major impact on healthcare trusts across the UK it was revealed that more could have been done to reduce the vulnerability of the systems affected. Worryingly the Department of Health had failed to react to warnings issued a year before hand.

The ramifications of cyber attacks

However, since the attack, the part of the National Health Service (NHS) responsible for digital architecture announced the launch of a new cyber security Security Operations Centre (SOC) with a £20m budget to monitor national health and care services in order to target the best advice. Dan Taylor, the organisation’s head of the Digital Security Centre, said on the NHS Digital website: “The SOC will enhance NHS Digital’s current data security services that support the health and care system in protecting sensitive patient information.

It will also allow us to improve our current capabilities in ethical hacking, vulnerability testing and the forensic analysis of malicious software, and will improve our ability to anticipate future vulnerabilities while supporting health and care in remediating current known threats.”

Outside NHS Digital, the major influence in securing our healthcare in the UK is the National Association for Healthcare Security (NAHS), formed in 1994, as a non-profit making professional organisation. The association is committed to providing a robust and professional service to its members, delivering on its strategy and the ongoing development of Security Management within the healthcare sector.

They provide a forum for mandated and best practice to be discussed and shared in order to support and enable the provision of healthcare through the delivery of professional security management.  However, outside the very real cyber threat, is there a need for greater professional security management within the UK’s NHS?

Violence and aggression against healthcare professionals

In May 2019, one of the UKs national television channels, ITV, screened a documentary which posed the question, “whether violence and aggression towards NHS and frontline staff is getting worse.” The presenter, Julie Etchingham explored the impact of violence and aggression by patients, asking how trusts can safeguard their staff.”

“This is based on the fact that the number of assaults on NHS staff has gone up by 15% in the last two years in England alone, that was over 23,000 assaults. This is translating into 63 assaults a day on staff in England,” she said. The programme interviewed numerous members of staff in a hospital accident department and every one had harrowing stories of being assaulted on numerous occasions.

Apart from the obvious immediate impact of staff and patients being injured unnecessarily, many staff have had enough and are leaving an already overstretched service. Matt Hancock MP, the Health Minister said, “it was critical that everyone knows where to go and what to do if someone is violent and know you will get enough support.”

Right on the front line of the problem are hospital security staff and, in some hospitals, staff have had to mount protests to try and get better safety equipment. The government has stepped up by bringing in a new law extending the penalties against anyone who attacks a member of emergency or NHS staff and early indications are that it is having an impact. Another capability that is having a major impact on violence is the introduction of Body Worn Cameras for security staffs and some hospitals have seen up to a 20% reduction in violence since their introduction.

John Currie, the Head of Security and NHS Accredited Local Security Management Specialist (LSMS) for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust and an Executive Director in NAHS, said, “that frontline Healthcare Security Officers are working harder than they ever have been. We are seeing demands both physically, mentally and emotionally that would test the strongest and most experienced officers. The Healthcare environment is constantly changing and evolving, the risk picture is never stable and what can be a quiet Emergency Department or Ward can suddenly erupt into an exceptionally violent, aggressive and volatile situation in the blink of an eye.”

“It is therefore essential that the Healthcare Security Officer is able to think on their feet, constantly risk assess the situation and ‘Improvise, Adapt and Overcome’. John added that the, “NAHS is currently lobbying the SIA and has proposed that a specialist category be created for licensing and equipping Healthcare Security Officers with the tools and skills needed to work within this very demanding sector.”

Written by:

Philip Ingram MBE
Managing Journalist
Grey Hare Media Ltd
Twitter: @PhilipIngMBE