A hysterectomy, a broken wrist, just a few of the injuries sustained by paramedics in the South West just trying to do their jobs.

A major investigation by GMB has revealed that just one custodial sentence was given out of the 294 reported physical assaults on Ambulance Staff between 2016/17 and 2017/18 in South West England

GMB, the union for Ambulance workers, is calling for the UK government to make changes to the law after seeing revealing figures that highlighted an unacceptably low prosecution rate.

The South West Ambulance Service provided GMB with a detailed breakdown of criminal outcomes. They recorded just one custodial sentence out of the 294 reported physical assaults between 2016/17 and 2017/18 (to the end of January 2018).

In all cases in the South West, fines did not exceed £440 and compensation to ambulance staff did not exceed £150. One worker was awarded just £50 compensation after their assailant pled guilty to assault by beating (battery).

Examples of violent attacks reported by GMB members include: being bitten, stabbed, having blood spat at them by intravenous drug users, having bones broken, attempts to hit them with cars, and racist and sexual abuse. [See notes for staff responses to a GMB survey].

The union revealed the shocking figures ahead of a crunch vote by MPs on tougher sentences for attacks on emergency workers this week.

GMB carried out a Freedom of Information Act survey of employers after national reporting of physical assaults was ended when NHS Protect was abolished last year.

72 per cent of ambulance workers have been attacked while on duty, and almost all (94 per cent) were aware of attacks on their colleagues.

The union’s survey of over 500 ambulance staff across the UK found that:

· 21 per cent of ambulance staff had to take sick leave due to violent assaults

· 37 per cent have considered leaving their job due to the threat of violence

· Almost half (48 per cent) said the support offered by their employer was ‘inadequate’

The number of violent attacks on ambulance workers in the UK increased by 34 per cent between 2012/13 and 2016/17, A total of 14,441 physical assaults were recorded against ambulance workers between 2012/13 and January 2018.

In 2016/17, recorded attacks on ambulance workers averaged more than eight (8.2) every single day.

GMB is supporting new legislation that faces its final House of Commons votes this Friday [27 April 2018]. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill would introduce a new offence of common assault against an emergency worker and require courts to treat attacks on emergency workers as an aggravating factor for sentencing purpose.

However, sexual assaults are not currently covered by the Bill. GMB’s investigation reveals that reported sexual assaults and other sexually abusive incidents increased by 211 per cent between 2012/13 and 2016/17. [4]

Paul Gage, GMB South West NHS Regional Organiser said:

“This prosecution rate In South West England is unacceptably low. And these numbers are only the assaults that have been reported

“What does kind of message does it send to our overstretched and overworked Ambulance staff that whether your kicked, beaten or assaulted in anyway there is a 99.7 % chance that the attacker will not see adequate justice”

“As lone working becomes more common and cuts to services bite, ambulance workers are increasingly vulnerable to violence in the line of duty. Changing the law will be an important first step as current sentences aren’t providing an adequate deterrent.”

Kevin Brandstatter, GMB NHS National Officer, said:

No one should be told that facing violence is just ‘part of the job’. The number of attacks faced by ambulance workers as they try to save lives is beyond unacceptable.

“Our members do their jobs with complete professionalism – but everyone has their breaking point.

“MPs must back emergency workers by backing this crucial legislation on Friday and widening its scope to include sexual assaults.

“The best laws will only be effective if they are enforced. Ambulance workers are there we when the public need them – and now they need us all to stand up for them.”

Some paramedics reveal what happened to them and the impact it has had on their home and personal life. The stories are actually heartbreaking and it’s such a shame to see that these incredible, selfless people are suffering through their choice of career and life choice of helping people.

More support is needed but also more understanding on the street. What is the solution? Surely if patients are capable of breaking a paramedics arm in violence, they don’t need an ambulance? While drunkards cause a lot of the problems, there must be something that can be done to ensure the safety of our paramedics and to reduce time wasted on these violent individuals.

The below quotes are drawn from GMB’s survey of ambulance staff in the UK during late February and early March. 508 responses were received from ambulance staff.

Attacks on ambulance workers

“I have been held hostage at knifepoint … I have been thrown against the side of the ambulance … A known alcoholic who we wouldn’t go buy alcohol for grabbed my arm and broke my wrist.”

“I was attacked with a samurai sword repeatedly.”

“I’ve been punched, kicked, slapped, bitten, spat on, threatened with a knife and a gun. Verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence. Threats to kill me and my family. Threats to rape my children.”

“[A] mental health patient attempting to pull myself over bridge. Leg and emotional injuries sustained.”

“People are more dependent on the service and tempers are raised due to waiting times. I shouldn’t have to apologise for doing my job to the best of my abilities, when staff shortages and short-sightedness of the government not providing appropriate resources is the main factor in delays.”

Examples of impact on work and home life

“I have had to have a hysterectomy because of injuries sustained … I have now returned to work but the impact on my life has been immense. I now cannot have children and will have ongoing problems for the rest of my life.”

“Drunken and aggressive male attacked me in the ambulance. Found out later patient was Hep C positive. Resulting in blood tests for 6 months. The courts gave him a suspended sentence. It was a horrible 6 months for my family and I.”

“Psychological stress. Apprehensive when a job comes in for an assault and ‘in drink/drugs’. Anxiety and stressed.”

“It has made me lose my confidence as a health care practitioner and has made me feel vulnerable.”

“I couldn’t drive for two weeks, I couldn’t manage simple tasks like washing my hair, shaving and I couldn’t even make diners or lunches. I became angry at home and frustrated.”

“Looking for a new job. My family were scared and worried for me at work.”

“I hate being a Paramedic now. If I could find work elsewhere with similar pay I would leave tomorrow.”

“[I] could not take sick leave as [my trust] do not pay unsocial payments on sick leave, [I] could not afford to lose the pay. Fearful of lone working and being sent to pubs. Can no longer drive without locking doors and suspect everyone.”

Sentencing and employer support

“I have letters that state this is part of the job and we should expect it. It’s only a matter of time before one of my colleagues or I are murdered or very seriously injured.”

“Felt extremely let down by my employers and the police for attempting to prosecute and letting person off with caution, nearly finished career.”

“Nothing [is] worse than being assaulted at work and then feeling left on your own to face perpetrators and the courts. It would at least look as if the Service cared about its staff and [was] serious about protecting us if a uniformed officer sat in court with you.”

If you are a paramedic, we salute you and thank you for doing your job despite these obvious obstacles.