NHS ambulance staff who have been attacked while on duty are leading a new national campaign to promote respect across the country.
They included kicking, slapping, head-butting and verbal abuse, and ranged from common assault to serious attacks involving knives and weapons.
The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives – 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.
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.”
The campaign features several staff from all over the country who have been the victims of assault, including West Midlands Ambulance Service paramedics Deena Evans and Michael Hipgrave, who saw their attacker jailed for nine years after he stabbed them as they went to help him.
Said Deena Evans: “Following my own horrific experiences, I am supporting this campaign to try and prevent my colleagues having to go through what Michael and I have endured. Being attacked so violently by someone I was trying to help completely changed me as a person and I became introverted and scared of going out. But that fear went away as soon as he was sentenced to nine years in prison.”
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.”
Assaults against female staff have seen a 48% increase in the number of attacks 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 are male and one third is female.
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 and sharing #WorkWithoutFear on social media and by visiting www.aace.org.uk/vaa to view films about some of those affected.