Three ambulance crews were violently assaulted in separate incidents across the North East region over the weekend. The attacks left two staff hospitalised, according to reports from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).
The report said drugs and alcohol appeared to be a significant factor in all three alleged assaults.
The violence unfolded over seven hours for ambulance staff as demand on the 999 service spiked over the course of Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning. NEAS said this put an "incredible strain on the service to respond in a timely manner, especially for those with a genuine life-saving need".
Deputy chief executive Paul Liversidge condemned the violence.
Mr Liversidge also said that the "NHS and the NEAS have been under an enormous amount of pressure and strain dealing with coronavirus for the last four months".
All three offences will be the first real test of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 for NEAS crews, the organisation said. Until now, they have not had the need to rely on the new law.
What is the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018?
The act received Royal assent 20 months’ ago on 13 November 2018. It now makes it a specific crime to commit assault or battery against an emergency worker, punishable with up to 12 months in prison - double the previous maximum sentence - a fine or both.
The first incident took place at a private address in Blyth just before 6pm on Saturday when NEAS received a call for man who had taken a suspected drugs overdose. When the crew arrived, another man in the same house became aggressive and allegedly assaulted one of the crew. All three crew members retreated to the ambulance and locked themselves in the back with the patient, who still required treatment. Their assailant then began allegedly attacking the vehicle, throwing bricks at the side of the ambulance and smashing a window. A second ambulance was needed and one of the NEAS crew was taken to hospital for facial injuries before being discharged.
In the second incident, which occurred just after 7.30pm, an ambulance was called to an unconscious patient on a pavement in South Shields. This man regained consciousness and became verbally aggressive and threatening towards the NEAS crew. While en-route to hospital, it is alleged he then became physically violent, damaging equipment in the back of the ambulance and was only restrained when the crew pulled into a police station to seek help before continuing their journey to hospital.
In the final incident, an advanced technician crew, employed by a private company working on behalf of NEAS, was called to a patient suffering the effects of alcohol in South Hetton, County Durham, at just after 1am on Sunday. While attending to the patient, the advanced technician was allegedly kicked and punched before retreating from the house. This person was checked for suspected internal injuries and stayed in hospital overnight.
In all three cases, police forces in Northumbria and Durham have arrested suspects in relation to all three assaults.