As the NHS struggles to stretch its resources to meet increasing demand, Tom Scargill asks what can be done to protect ambulance staff who are being attacked in the line of duty?
Shocking new figures show that ambulance staff in West Yorkshire have been punched, kicked and sexually assaulted while on duty.
There have been 1,202 physical and verbal attacks on frontline ambulance service staff in West Yorkshire during the past four years.
The figure has risen from 237 in 2014 to 377 in 2017, with 236 reported incidents in 2015 and 352 in 2016.
The figures include 33 incidents of sexual assault, 68 incidents where a member of staff was punched, 54 reported incidents of staff being kicked, 21 reported incidents of staff being physically assaulted with a weapon, 27 incidents where they were spat at and 16 incidents where they were bitten.
There were also nine incidents of racial abuse.
Our emergency service workers deserve our respect and the full protection of the law.
Staff have been left with damaged ligaments and spinal cords, cuts and bruises and psychological problems.
The police were called to 480 of the incidents, of which 124 involved staff from Calderdale, 112 were in Wakefield and 51 were in North Kirklees.
Stephen Segasby, Deputy Director of Operations at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “Ambulance service staff do a difficult job, often in challenging circumstances. The safety of our employees is of paramount importance and physical and verbal abuse against any member of NHS staff is completely unacceptable.
“We actively encourage staff to report all incidents of violent and aggressive behaviour and this includes any aspects of abuse however minor.
“We operate a zero tolerance policy and legal action will be taken against anyone who assaults our staff.”
Holly Lynch MP (Lab, Halifax), who is heading up a campaign to help protect frontline emergency service personnel, said: “I am disappointed that the number of assaults on ambulance staff has risen at such an alarming rate in the past couple of years.
“It is unacceptable that our emergency service workers would be subject to assaults as they carry out their duties, responding to people in need.
“They deserve our respect and the full protection of the law, and this is why the Protector the Protectors Bill which I have been advocating in Parliament is so important.
“The prevalence of sexual assaults committed against paramedics is particularly disturbing, and the new law changes will reflect that.”
Mary Creagh, MP (Lab, Wakefield), said: “Ambulance crews help us when we are most in need, and run towards danger as part of their public service. All right-minded people will be appalled at these figures showing that crews are being attacked, harassed and hurt in the line of duty. These crimes have risen dramatically which is why I supported Holly Lynch’s protect the protectors Bill to keep our blue light workers safe. West Yorkshire Police must investigate these crimes, and bring those responsible to justice”
Paula Sherriff MP (Lab, Dewsbury), said: ‘Any assault on emergency workers is unacceptable, and it’s about time the law reflected the seriousness of these attacks.
“I’m backing the ‘Protect the Protectors Bill’, which would create a new offence of assaulting our police, firefighters and NHS workers.
“I’m glad that after a unanimous vote in October last year, this Bill will now progress to the committee stage.
“No-one should be attacked just for doing their job, let alone when that job is putting themselves on the line for the public good.
“We need to send a clear message that we will not tolerate violence and abuse towards those who protect us.”
Craig Whittaker MP (Conservative, Calder Valley), said: “We owe our emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in carrying out their duties. Attacks on our ambulance staff are absolutely appalling and we need to send a clear message that we will not tolerate this behaviour. This is why the Government are supporting a Bill, currently going through Parliament, to protect emergency workers.
“This Bill would create a statutory aggravating factor. This means that when a person is convicted of a specific offence, the judge would have to consider the fact it was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in determining the sentence within the maximum allowed for the particular offence. “This Bill will cover a range of different violent charges and would apply to cover all emergency workers including police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance personnel. This crucial change will ensure that those who commit such disgraceful attacks rightly face the full force of the law.”
Tracy Brabin (Lab, Batley and Spen), said: “I supported fellow Labour MPs Chris Bryant and Holly Lynch in backing the Protect the Protectors bill which will make it an aggravated offence to attack an emergency worker and offer greater protections against spitting.
“The tougher penalties are a huge step forward in protecting those who we rely on to keep us safe, who often endure horrific abuse as they go about their day-to-day work. Hard-working emergency services workers protect all of us, so it is only right that we afford them the same protection.”
Association of Ambulance Chief Executives managing director Martin Flaherty OBE, said: “We abhor violence against ambulance staff which will not be tolerated, and AACE will support any action that would see the perpetrators punished to the full extent of the law.
“All Ambulance Trusts have well-established procedures to protect staff as far as possible against violence and aggression while on duty and to support anyone who has been subjected to verbal or physical assaults in the course of their work.”
2014 - 37 incidents involved staff from Calderdale, 33 involved staff from Wakefield and eight involved staff from North Kirklees.
2015 - 19 incidents involved staff from North Kirklees, 23 involved staff from Calderdale, 26 involved staff from Wakefield.
2016 - 27 involved staff from Wakefield, 28 involved staff from Calderdale and nine involved staff from North Kirklees
2017 - 26 involved staff from Wakefield, 36 involved staff from Calderdale,and 15 involved staff from North Kirklees