More than three quarters of North East ambulance staff facing abuse due to alcohol, survey finds

  • Jonny Blair reports

More than three quarters of paramedics in the North East have been abused by patients or members of the public who are under the influence of alcohol, according to a survey.

A third of paramedics with the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) said half or more of the incidences they dealt with over the Christmas period involved alcohol.

NEAS and Balance, the North East Alcohol Programme, surveyed almost 150 front line staff from the ambulance service about their experiences.

The survey of NEAS frontline staff found:

  • 93% said dealing with intoxicated patients wastes valuable capacity and places avoidable demand on time and resources.

  • Nearly one in three said half or more of the incidences they dealt with over the Christmas period involved alcohol.

  • Almost half of NEAS employees (47%) said that over 75% of call-outs for assaults were related to alcohol.

  • 68% said more than half of call-outs for domestic violence were related to alcohol.

  • 40% have received threat of injury from patients or members of the public at least six times, and one in three have received an actual injury or verbal abuse on as many occasions.

  • 38% have been sexually harassed or assaulted while on duty from people under the influence of alcohol.

  • Only one in 10 (12%) said they have never been threatened by an intoxicated patient or member of the public while on duty.

Anonymous testimonies from ambulance staff include accounts of aggression, verbal abuse, physical assault and inappropriate sexual comments made by people under the influence of alcohol that they were trying to help.

One described needing weeks of physiotherapy following an unprovoked attack by a bystander while they were on a callout.

Another described needing counselling, with one recalling that they had to deal with a family member trying to punch them while trying to resuscitate a patient who had suffered a cardiac arrest.

Almost half of female staff (46%) reported experiencing sexual harassment compared with just over a quarter of male respondents (28%).

Stephen Segasby, from NEAS, said: “There is an emotional cost and a financial one for NEAS if staff are assaulted or abused.

"To do their best for patients in an emergency, our people need to be well and able to work safely.  Working under such conditions can take its toll on the mental and physical health of our people. 

"This can have a direct impact on the availability of the trained professionals we all rely upon in an emergency. Nobody comes to work in an emergency service like ours to be put at risk. 

“It is not acceptable for anyone to be abused or assaulted on duty. This can put added pressure on an already-pressurised service and it’s important that we don’t tolerate it.”

In a survey, almost one in three staff said more than half of incidences they dealt with over Christmas involved alcohol. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

During 2020, deaths from alcohol hit a record high across the country - with the highest rates in the North East.

Susan Taylor, head of alcohol policy for Balance, said: “The increased risky drinking we saw on the back of the pandemic is likely to lead to thousands of extra cases of disease and premature death. And for 999 crews it has created additional pressure on already stretched services.

“It is clear that NEAS employees feel that alcohol-related incidents have been increasing and this places a huge emotional and physical burden on them - both on and off duty.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...