Paramedic apprentice Lauren Kay, who will feature in the new national violence and aggression campaign

Help our ambulance staff Work Without Fear

New national violence and aggression campaign launched

Health advisors and paramedics from North East Ambulance Service who have been subjected to verbal and physical assaults in the line of duty are part of a new national campaign to promote respect across the country.

Every day last year, a staggering 32 ambulance staff nationally were abused or attacked; more than one every hour of every day during the whole of last year, totalling 11,749 staff. This is an increase of 4,060 incidents over the last five years. The most significant rise covered the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when assaults jumped up by 23% compared with the year before.

They included kicking, slapping, head-butting and verbal abuse, and ranged from common assault to serious attacks involving knives and weapons, as well as threatening and verbal abuse.

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) – with support from NHS England - has today launched the national #WorkWithoutFear campaign to highlight the profound impact of this abuse on the everyday lives of ambulance staff and to encourage the minority of people who might commit these offences to have respect for the people who are trying to help them, their friends and families when they need it most.

Ambulance staff at North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) reported 2,499 incidents of assault and abuse over the last five years.

During the two years 23-year-old Lauren Kay spent as a 999 and 111 health advisor in the Emergency Operations Centre at NEAS, she was regularly subjected to abuse over the phone. However, one particular incident – a drug user who became abusive after refusing to give his details – sticks in Lauren’s mind.

She recalls: “He immediately got very aggressive and spent a lot of time asking me over and over again how I slept at night, calling me a murderer and told me he was going to hurt me when he found me and he hoped I would burn in hell. It’s not exactly secret where we work so it does make you look over your shoulder a little bit for a few days.”

Now training to become a paramedic, Lauren, who is based in Newcastle, sadly experienced this abuse first hand just three weeks into her training.

“Nobody calls 999 on the best day of their lives,” she said. “We understand that you can be in a situation that is incredibly scary and you don’t know what to do and you’re in a place emotionally where sometimes you can lash out. However, no matter the situation, I really don’t think there’s an excuse to be violent or aggressive, to make anybody feel small or hurt them, especially if they are there with the sole purpose of helping you.”

Up until last year, mum-of-two Kelly Tipp, based in Hartlepool, had little experience of violence and aggression in her 18-year career at NEAS. However, in the last 12 months, she has experienced four assaults, one verbal and three physical.

“There’s nothing right about it is there?” she said. “I don’t come to work to be assaulted, physically or verbally.  For me it’s an absolute, 100 per cent no, it shouldn’t happen.  I speak to people how I would like to be spoken back to.  Most of the cases are drug and alcohol related. It’s not nice. Sometimes you think what’s the point? Why am I doing it? It makes you feel sad. Sometimes you get angry about it.

“I now wear a body camera on every shift. Luckily, I haven’t had to use it as-yet but I know it’s there if I need it. We don’t have anything to defend ourselves if somebody is violent and aggressive towards us so the camera for me is an added extra to help me protect myself.”

Helen Ray, Chief Executive at North East Ambulance Service, said: “For our colleagues, working for the ambulance service is so much more than a job; they come to work to help people and under no circumstances should they expect to find themselves a victim of any form of abuse whilst trying to do so.

“The majority of our patients are extremely thankful for their service, but the minority who choose to abuse our staff need to be under no illusion that we will not tolerate this, and we will always support our colleagues to prosecute.”

Daren Mochrie, Chair of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) and Chief Executive of North West Ambulance Service said: “Unfortunately, ambulance staff face the possibility of violence, assault and aggression every time they start a shift. When they occur, these attacks have a significant and lasting impact on the team member, affecting every aspect of their life. Despite that, ambulance staff continue to turn up for work to help and serve their local communities.

“We hope this campaign raises awareness of the impact of this behaviour on individuals, emphasises that it is totally unacceptable in any form and ensures that our staff are treated with the respect they deserve. The Assaults on Emergency Workers Offences Act 2018 legislation is in place, but we must now see the judiciary consistently using that to issue the most appropriate sentences to those found guilty of committing these appalling crimes.”

Alcohol is the most prominent factor in assaults against ambulance staff, accounting for around 27% of the overall incidents reported by NEAS staff between 2016 and 2021. This was followed by people in mental health crisis (20%) and drugs (13%). Race and sexuality have also increased as exacerbating factors in these assaults, accounting for 9% of the overall incidents reported by NEAS staff between 2016 and 2021.

Assaults against female staff have seen a 48% increase in the number of attacks nationally over the last five years, while younger ambulance staff (aged 21-34) have seen the largest increase in assaults compared to other age groups. Two-thirds of offenders who assault ambulance staff nationally are male, and most offenders in the North East are in their early 40s.

 

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “Ambulance staff consistently go above and beyond to ensure people get the help they need in times of emergencies, and have been at the forefront of the country’s response to the covid pandemic.

“The vast majority of patients and the public show nothing but respect and thanks for the skilled care they receive, but the unacceptable actions of a small minority have a massive impact on the professional and personal lives of our ambulance colleagues.

“We should all have the right to work without fear of violence and threats, so I am pleased to support this important campaign as part of our wider NHS violence prevention and reduction work to protect staff wherever they work.” 

UNISON national officer Alan Lofthouse said: “Staff have the right to go to work without being abused. Those who are verbally or physical attacked suffer long-term effects or even leave the job they love. Violence and aggression against ambulance workers is never okay. That important message must be loud and clear."

National Police Chiefs' Council Chair Martin Hewitt said: “It is entirely unacceptable for NHS ambulance staff to suffer violence and aggression while saving lives. We’re deeply concerned that reported incidents of violence have risen in the last five years and that over 50,000 ambulance crews and control room staff have suffered some form of verbal or physical assault or threatening behaviour over that period. In 2020, the maximum jail term for attacking emergency workers was doubled. We will not tolerate abuse of our emergency workers and we will use the full force of the law to prosecute anyone who uses violence against those who are on the front line and who must be able to work without fear.” 

The public can pledge their support for this campaign by using #WorkWithoutFear on social media and by visiting www.aace.org.uk/vaa to view films about some of those affected.

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