A clip from the More than a Uniform video, filmed by NEAS staff.

More than a uniform campaign reignited ahead of lockdown restrictions easing

Public reminded to treat staff with respect

North East Ambulance Service has relaunched its #MoreThanAUniform campaign in anticipation of a potential rise in abuse against its staff amid the further easing of lockdown restrictions.

The service first began its campaign in July last year after several vicious assaults from patients over the two-week period following the easing of the first lockdown.

Now, as the service prepares for an expected increase in demand over the next week as a result of the latest easing of restrictions, it would like to remind people to respect those that are here to help them.

It is also appealing to the public to:

  • Continue to follow the rules around social distancing, hand washing and contact
  • Use NHS 111 online (www.111.nhs.uk) or call NHS 111 for urgent medical advice. 
  • Continue to use 999 for life-threatening emergencies only

Deputy chief executive Paul Liversidge said: “As we move towards the weekend and the re-opening of beer gardens and outdoor drinking areas, we are looking forward to people being able to enjoy themselves responsibly. But please don’t let that be an excuse to abuse the services – and staff – who have been there for you all throughout the last year.

“We are still dealing with a pandemic, which the sensible majority is helping the NHS to tackle. Our staff have worked extremely hard under difficult conditions to keep the public safe. Yet, at a time when people were clapping the NHS and essential workers for our efforts during the pandemic, our crews were also being physically and verbally assaulted more frequently than ever before.

“I said it last year and I’ll say it again now – enough is enough.

“Our staff deserve to go to work without fear of being assaulted. The maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency service worker has doubled and we are now seeing the courts take tougher action on sentencing. Please know, if you choose to abuse my staff, you will be reported to the police.”

Between April 2020 and March 2021, at the height of the Covid pandemic, the service recorded 270 physical assaults and 319 verbal assaults against ambulance staff from members of the public and patients. This is 25% increase in physical assaults in the last 12 months, mostly fuelled by drink or drugs, compared to the Covid-free year before. It’s also a 9% rise in verbal assaults (* see table below in notes section)

Assaults – both physical and verbal – can have a lasting impact on staff, ranging from marriage breakdowns to leaving the profession altogether.

During last year’s campaign, several NEAS staff who had been abused at work came together to share how it feels to be verbally abused, threatened with knives, kicked, spat at, and watch colleagues leave the service. They have also created a video, which is available to view on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/xY6FcS3NCB0

Paramedic and father-of-three Dave Puddy has been in the ambulance service for more than 20 years.

He said: “I’ve been in lots of volatile situations over the years but thankfully have only been physically assaulted three times. The first time I was kicked by a drunk female, the second time I was kicked by a drunk male and the third time I was held hostage by a man with a knife.

“You don’t go home and tell your loved ones about your day when things like this happen. You don’t want them to be thinking when you walk out of the door that you might not come back.”

And, sadly, it is not just road staff who are being abused whilst trying to save lives.

Our 999 and 111 health advisors are trained to try and keep people calm when they are panicking; to understand that a caller may become verbally aggressive when scared. However, the level of abuse that health advisor Kerry Cowell and her colleagues regularly receive is unacceptable.

“Unfortunately, being verbally abused is now normality as a call handler,” said health advisor Kerry Cowell, who has been taking 999 and 111 calls in the North East for four years.

“I have been sworn at, screamed at, threatened and have also been told by one lovely gentleman that he would be waiting for me after work.

“There is absolutely no need, especially when all we are doing is trying to help. As awful as it sounds, the pandemic came as a little light relief as callers were kind, considerate and thankful for our help. Unfortunately, when lockdown began to ease, it went back to ‘normal’ and that is not ok.”

As well as using CCTV in its vehicles, NEAS was the first ambulance service to trial body worn video cameras in 2019 and has now rolled this out further across the Trust after being successful in a funding bid from NHS England.

There is also a wider cost to the service in terms of repairs and time lost to staff sickness. On reviewing just 41 cases between April 2017 and October 2019, the service lost 411 days to staff sickness at a cost of £141,824 in overtime costs to cover missed shifts following an assault. In addition, the cost of recruiting and training replacements for those staff who have left ranges between £20,000 and £30,000 per person depending on the role and clinical skills needed in the post.  

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 allows courts to impose a maximum of 12 months in prison on anyone found guilty of assaulting a police officer, firefighter, prison officer or paramedic. Judges must also consider tougher sentences for more serious offences – such as GBH or sexual assault – if the victim was an emergency worker.

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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