Mental health social workers in Oxfordshire have been given flak jackets to wear on duty after a colleague was threatened with an air rifle.
Approved mental health professionals based at Warneford Hospital in Headington were given the extra protection following the incident during a home visit in 2005.
Wendy Paskell, AMHP manager for Oxfordshire Social and Community Services, said: “An AMHP was undertaking a Mental Health Act assessment at the person’s home. The service user had built a shrine to his ex-partner. He pulled out an airgun and shot at the shrine while the AMHP was sitting next to him.
“Luckily he wasn’t hurt but the AMHPs were provided with flak jackets for them to wear to make them feel safer in the community afterwards.”
However, of the 33 AMHPs “only one or two” wear the jackets, which protect against gunshots and knife attacks, because they fear it might give the wrong impression to service users.
“Most of my team say it will look like you’re assuming the person you’re visiting will attack you,” she said. “They also feel that they may be tempted to take greater risks due to having a false sense of security, rather than ensuring appropriate police presence, and it doesn’t protect you from other forms of assault.”
The news comes amid renewed fears about the risks faced by social care workers on the frontline. Earlier this year, Mental Health Matters, a charity based in Sunderland, was fined £30,000 for allowing a support worker to visit a service user with paranoid schizophrenia on her own.
The charity’s director apologised “unreservedly” to the family of Ashleigh Ewing, who was stabbed to death in Newcastle in May 2006.