Police are called to investigate a crime in hospital roughly every 10 minutes, shock figures reveal.
The problem is becoming so bad that several forces now base officers in some of the busiest health centres.
Police attended 64,728 incidents at NHS premises last year – up 1,700 on 2012. This equates to about once every 10 minutes, said Sky News, which obtained the figures from 30 forces under the Freedom of Information Act.
The crimes included a range of offences from theft to stabbings and rapes. Many are drink-related, said the Association of Chief Police Officers.
The scale of the crisis is likely to be much worse as the figures only cover two-thirds of forces and do not include the biggest, the Metropolitan Police.
The Royal College of Nursing called for a tougher approach to offenders by both police and hospital trusts. Chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: “Something needs to be done about this major, national problem.”
The ACPO’s national lead on alcohol harm reduction, Northants Chief constable Adrian Lee, said: “There was a time when NHS staff, through good motivations, didn’t want to report crimes against people there to receive the service. But that’s not appropriate as it sends a message you can behave inappropriately in hospital. Well, you can’t.”
Among forces now basing officers at A&E units is Greater Manchester Police. The figures shoe it attended 12,726 incidents in 2013 – up 320 in a year.
Figures from NHS Protect in November show a record 68,683 reports of assaults on health service staff in the year to March.
Most of the bites, blows and stabbings were believed to be carried out when the hard-pressed medics were trying to attend to patients.
And senior NHS officials said many assaults were still not being reported.