Nursing unions last night called for a "zero tolerance" attitude to violence against healthcare workers after a paranoid schizophrenic who attacked a Midland nurse escaped a jail sentence.
Martin Constable punched auxiliary nurse Helen Kelly so hard in the face that she needed ten stitches and will be scarred for life.
The 23-year-old paranoid schizophrenic was yesterday given a two-year rehabilitation order, 80 hours' community punishment and ordered to pay £2,500 compensation after he admitted punching Miss Kelly at Penn Hospital, in Wolverhampton.
Last night the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison both described the sentence as being "far too lenient" and called on the courts to punish offenders using "the full extent of the law"
Ray Salmon, Unison's regional organiser in the West Midlands, said there needs to be a crackdown on violent attacks against health workers.
He said: "If you assault a nurse, doctor or any frontline health worker you should receive a custodial sentence. There should be a zero tolerance approach to this, our members shouldn't have to go to work in fear of being attacked."
Ann Leedham-Smith, the RCN's regional director, added: "More and more nurses are being abused or assaulted while at work, and I think this sentence was far too lenient, even though this man pleaded guilty he should still have gone to prison."
Constable, a father-of-one, appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court for sentence under a private prosecution brought by the NHS Legal Protection Unit, after West Midlands Police said the case was not in the public interest to pursue.
He had been admitted to Penn Hospital, which treats patients with mental problems, in February 2004, but three months' later - on May 28 - Constable threatened to smash up the hospital if he was not allowed home leave.
Sandip Patel, prosecuting, said: "He walked up to Miss Kelly and without warning punched her in the face, and the force of which pushed her back on to her seat. It was an act of gratuitous violence. It was a deliberate act and not attributable to his illness."
Miss Kelly, aged 48, was taken to New Cross Hospital as she needed ten stitches to her face, and suffered swelling and bruising to both eyes. Mr Patel said she had a permanent scar on her nose.
Anthony Potter, defending, said Constable was detained under the Mental Health Act and would remain there for the foreseeable future.
He said: "He cannot understand why he did what he did, but he is regretful of it."
Judge Sibel Thomas told Constable, of Wood Green Road, Wednesbury, he was not going to prison and would continue to live at rehabilitation unit Stanley Lodge.
After the hearing Miss Kelly, who did not return to work for six months, said: "I did not want him to go to prison because it would not make him safer, he needs treatment.
"I hope this sends out the message that nurses cannot be hit. Nursing was my life but now I cannot bear to work on the wards."