8 November 2016 - Children of NWAS Staff Ask the Public to Consider who is Behind the Uniform, as Violent Incidents Increase

As incidents of violence and aggression against ambulance staff increase, North West Ambulance Service, and children whose parents work for the Trust, are asking the public to consider the person ‘Behind the Uniform’ as part of a campaign to raise awareness of this shocking statistic.

In 14/15, ambulance staff reported 608 incidents of verbal abuse and threatening behavior from members of the public but in 15/16, this number rose by 27 per cent to 755. The majority of these acts of aggression are aimed at emergency ambulance crews but staff working for the non-emergency patient transport service, call centres and 111 operators have also reported being targets of abuse.

In terms of physical assaults – NWAS saw a rise of five percent in 15/16 (390) compared to 14/15 which saw 371 recorded assaults. 

The objective of the Behind the Uniform campaign is to highlight that the Trust’s staff are people just like everyone else, with homes, friends and families and that these acts can be hurtful both physically and mentally and will not be tolerated. The campaign’s highlight is the release of videos featuring the children of NWAS staff explaining how they feel when their parents go to work and they hear of people being ‘mean’ to them.

Scarlett, aged 10, describes how her father Paul, a Paramedic, had to have surgery for a knee injury after he was assaulted by a patient in the back on an ambulance, resulting in him having to be off work for six months.

Hermoine, aged five, is very adamant when she talks about mum, Hannah, an Emergency Medical Dispatcher in the Greater Manchester call centre; she states: “You wouldn’t like it if I shout at your mummy, and I wouldn’t like it if you shouted at my mummy!”

NWAS Chief Executive, Derek Cartwright comments: “In my role, there is nothing worse than being told that one of our staff has been attacked while trying to do their job and hearing the views of their children really brings it home.

“Our staff are not just Paramedics, Technicians, Despatchers or 111 Health Advisors – they are mums, dads, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. There is more to them than a uniform or voice on the telephone and for them to have to go home to their families hurt or upset is not acceptable.”

The Trust has convened a dedicated group to tackle the issue of violence and aggression against staff. Made up of frontline staff, managers and union representatives, the group’s remit is to raise awareness amongst the public and staff, some of whom may wrongly believe that it is a part of the job and ignore minor incidents when it happens to them.

As part of the campaign, staff will also be given materials advising them on what to do if they are verbally or physically assaulted and encouraging them to report all incidents, no matter how minor, so they can be logged and, if necessary, a warning placed on the assailant’s address.

Over the next two weeks, the Trust will be using social media to highlight violence and aggression statistics and real case studies, as well as asking staff to use the hashtag #behindtheuniform to say something about themselves unrelated to work.

Derek explains: “We hope that staff, by using the hashtag, will show that there is someone behind the uniform, with thoughts, feelings, hobbies, interests and families and as such, feel pain, hurt and upset like every other human being.

“We will be making a concentrated effort to encourage our staff to report all incidents of verbal or physical aggression, and where appropriate, to request that Police investigate all reported cases. We are looking at how we can improve training and learning amongst senior managers in how to support staff in such cases so they feel that they have the full support of the Trust behind them.”

Assaults against NWAS staff can come in many guises – the majority of Control staff incidents involve callers shouting and swearing at or threatening staff, while those on the road can face the horror of a physical attack resulting in injury. Statistics show that the majority of assaults occur on a Saturday between the hours of 18.30 until midnight. The aggravating factors in most cases of aggression and violence are alcohol and drugs.

Adds Derek; “There are incidents where the overriding factor is the medical condition itself – mental health problems, head injury and seizures can all lead to patients acting aggressively but our staff are fully trained in recognising these conditions and how to deal with them. However, even in these circumstances, we hope our staff would report the assault.

“The real issue is when people get angry – they may have waited longer for an ambulance than they expect, they may be unhappy with the treatment being given or the questions our call takers have to ask each caller but regardless of this, there is no excuse for attacking someone who is trying to help you or your loved one.”

In the words of Delilah, aged seven, “Please be kind to my mummy, she’s trying to help.”

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