North East Ambulance Service join campaign to highlight number of attacks on staff

Lauren Kay is a trainee paramedic with NEAS, and has seen death threats and abuse throughout her career. Credit: North East Ambulance Service

Staff from North East Ambulance Service who have been subjected to verbal and physical assaults on the job have joined a new national campaign to highlight the issue.

Every day last year, 32 ambulance staff nationally were abused or attacked; more than one every hour of every day during the whole of last year.

The most significant rise covered the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when assaults jumped up by 23% compared with the year before.

They included kicking, slapping, head-butting and verbal abuse, and ranged from common assault to serious attacks involving knives and weapons, as well as threatening and verbal abuse.

The Work Without Fear campaign hopes to show the huge impact this abuse has 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.

Over the past five years, North East Ambulance Service has seen over 2,000 attacks on its staff:

Assaults against female staff have seen a 48% increase in the number of attacks nationally 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 nationally are male, and most offenders in the North East are in their early 40s.

Lauren Kay spent two years working as a health advisor for 999 and 111 in the Emergency Operations Centre at NEAS, and during that time, she was regularly subjected to abuse over the phone.

She says one particular incident – a drug user who became abusive after refusing to give his details – sticks in Lauren’s mind.

She recalls: “He immediately got very aggressive and spent a lot of time asking me over and over again how I slept at night, calling me a murderer and told me he was going to hurt me when he found me and he hoped I would burn in hell.

"It’s not exactly secret where we work so it does make you look over your shoulder a little bit for a few days.”

Now training to become a paramedic, Lauren, who is based in Newcastle, experienced even more abuse first hand, just three weeks into her training.

“Nobody calls 999 on the best day of their lives,” she said.

“We understand that you can be in a situation that is incredibly scary and you don’t know what to do and you’re in a place emotionally where sometimes you can lash out.

"However, no matter the situation, I really don’t think there’s an excuse to be violent or aggressive, to make anybody feel small or hurt them, especially if they are there with the sole purpose of helping you.”

Vicky Court, deputy chief operating officer at North East Ambulance Service, said: “For our colleagues, working for the ambulance service is so much more than a job; they come to work to help people and under no circumstances should they expect to find themselves a victim of any form of abuse whilst trying to do so.

“The majority of our patients are extremely thankful for their service, but the minority who choose to hurt us need to be under no illusion that we will not tolerate any form of abuse, and we will always encourage our colleagues to prosecute.”

Alcohol is the most prominent factor in assaults against ambulance staff, accounting for around 27% of the overall incidents reported by NEAS staff between 2016 and 2021. This was followed by people in mental health crisis (20%) and drugs (13%). Race and sexuality have also increased as exacerbating factors in these assaults, accounting for 9% of the overall incidents reported by NEAS staff between 2016 and 2021.

Watch the full report from ITV's Julia Barthram: