Concerns that pubs reopening could lead to increased assaults on ambulance workers

As pubs reopen, the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) is urging people to drink sensibly to prevent assaults on its staff.

Last summer, NEAS launched their #MoreThanAUniform campaign after several "vicious" assaults from patients over the two-week period following the easing of the first lockdown.

Now, as the service prepares for an expected increase in demand over the next week as a result of the latest easing of restrictions, it would like to remind people to respect those that are here to help them.

NEAS paramedic Andy Williams experienced a particularly threatening incident while on call last summer. He says verbal and physical assaults are the norm.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, at the height of the Covid pandemic, the service recorded 270 physical assaults and 319 verbal assaults against ambulance staff from members of the public and patients. That is a 25% increase in physical assaults in the last 12 months compared to the Covid-free year before. It’s also a 9% rise in verbal assaults. NEAS says in most of these cases, it was fuelled by drink or drugs,

Deputy chief executive Paul Liversidge said, “As we move towards the weekend and the reopening of beer gardens and outdoor drinking areas, we are looking forward to people being able to enjoy themselves responsibly. But please don’t let that be an excuse to abuse the services – and staff – who have been there for you all throughout the last year.

“We are still dealing with a pandemic, which the sensible majority is helping the NHS to tackle. Our staff have worked extremely hard under difficult conditions to keep the public safe. Yet, at a time when people were clapping the NHS and essential workers for our efforts during the pandemic, our crews were also being physically and verbally assaulted more frequently than ever before.

“I said it last year and I’ll say it again now – enough is enough.

“Our staff deserve to go to work without fear of being assaulted. The maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency service worker has doubled and we are now seeing the courts take tougher action on sentencing. Please know, if you choose to abuse my staff, you will be reported to the police.”

Assaults – both physical and verbal – can have a lasting impact on staff, ranging from marriage breakdowns to leaving the profession altogether.

During last year’s campaign, several NEAS staff who had been abused at work shared how it feels to be verbally abused, threatened with knives, kicked, spat at, and watch colleagues leave the service.

It is not just road staff who are being abused whilst trying to save lives. NEAS says 999 and 111 health advisors are also at the receiving end of abuse.

There is also a wider cost to the service in terms of repairs and time lost to staff sickness. When NEAS reviewed 41 cases of assault or abuse between April 2017 and October 2019, it showed that the service lost 411 days to staff sickness at a cost of £141,824 in overtime costs to cover missed shifts following an assault. In addition, the cost of recruiting and training replacements for those staff who have left ranges between £20,000 and £30,000 per person depending on the role and clinical skills needed in the post.  

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 allows courts to impose a maximum of 12 months in prison on anyone found guilty of assaulting a police officer, firefighter, prison officer or paramedic. Judges must also consider tougher sentences for more serious offences – such as GBH or sexual assault – if the victim was an emergency worker.