Health Secretary Alan Johnson has pledged a major crackdown on violence against hospital staff after a shocking documentary exposed violence faced by doctors and nurses in Birmingham.
He announced at the conference that NHS staff would receive personal safety alarms and that anyone who abused them could face a jail sentence.
Figures published earlier this year revealed there were 1,675 assaults against NHS staff in Birmingham and Solihull over 12 months, or more than four every day.
And BBC’s Panorama went behind the scenes at Heartlands in Birmingham and the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh to capture acts of violence including a gang fight in an X-ray unit.
Heartlands Hospital said it had cooperated with documentary makers to expose the dangers faced by its workers. Mr Johnson yesterday said: "We know there is no more important resource for the NHS than the staff who work for it. But too many suffer harassment, intimidation and violence.
"To give greater protection, we will issue personal safety alarms to those NHS staff who need them, as part of a #97 million boost to the NHS security budget. This will ensure that we have better security in hospitals and that we improve the training we give to staff to deal with aggressive behaviour.
"I can also announce today that this money will allow us to increase the number of prosecutions against those who assault staff. Anybody who abuses our staff must face tough action and the possibility of jail."
The measures were welcomed by city MP Sion Simon (Lab Erdington). He said: "Health service workers, like any other worker, have a right to expect to discharge their duties without being attacked.
"We should insist on safety precautions for NHS staff, and the toughest penalties for anyone who assaults or abuses them."
Mr Johnson insisted the Government must continue to reform the NHS to meet the public’s demand for improved health services and more personal care.
He said he wanted a regulator to tackle hygiene standards in NHS and private hospitals – with the power to investigate and close down wards where standards were not being met.
With health expected to be a major issue in a General Election, Mr Johnson also said he and the Prime Minister had launched a 10-year review of the NHS.
"This is an unprecedented opportunity to shape an NHS which is clinically-led and locally-driven, constantly focused on a personalised service for the patient.
"Centralising care where necessary, for instance for stroke and cancer patients. But localising where possible, so that patients can be treated closer to home."
He said patients should be treated close to home and GP surgeries should open "at times and in locations that suit the patient, not the practice.
"Pharmacies, sports centres and high street walk-in centres can do much more to provide primary care effectively and conveniently."