'Unprecedented' attacks on 11 ambulance staff on 11th night condemned by NIAS as disgraceful

Eleven on-duty ambulance staff were assaulted over an "unprecedented" six-hour period over the eleventh night.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said that the assaults took place at four different locations, when crews were responding to calls to provide medical treatment to patients requiring assistance.

In the most serious attack, five staff were punched, kicked, bitten and spat at at a bonfire site in the Carrickfergus area.

"They also had threats made on their lives," a statement said.

The other assaults took place in the Forthriver area of Belfast, in Belfast city centre and in the Ballymacash area of Lisburn.

NIAS chief executive Michael Bloomfield condemned the "absolutely disgraceful" attacks.

"On Tuesday night, 11 of our staff left their homes to go to their work, ready to respond to calls for assistance, from wherever they came.

"Those 11 staff should have had a reasonable expectation that their night would involve nothing more than using their skills to ensure the safety of the communities we serve.

"It is absolutely disgraceful that during the night they should be abused in the manner in which they were, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

"I spent time with our crews across Belfast on 11th July and saw first-hand the professionalism and compassion they brought to all those who needed their care.

"This is in such stark contrast to the actions of those who behaved in this way towards them.

"I can only imagine the fear these dedicated staff must have experienced in the face of this aggression. I understand that the vast majority of people appreciate the efforts of our crews but that would have been of little comfort to them at that time."

Mr Bloomfield appealed for those with information to contact the PSNI, and called on "those with influence" in communities to state that such assaults are unacceptable.

"Our staff, and all emergency services staff, need the full support of everyone in the community, and I would appeal to anyone who has information that may lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of these attacks, to bring that information to PSNI.

"NIAS has campaigned over many years highlighting the fact that assaults are not, and should never be, part of the job.

"It is a very sad reflection on some in our community that these incidents continue to happen.

"We will support our staff over the next days and weeks, being aware that the physical injuries will be quickest to heal. The mental distress will likely remain with them for some time to come.

"I make no apology for placing the welfare of our staff as a priority but it also concerns me greatly that such attacks can have a serious impact on our response to emergency calls as crews are stood down and cover is reduced.

"Not only are our staff placed in danger but lives are put at risk by the actions of these irresponsible individuals.

"I once again call for those with influence in communities to use that to stress the unacceptability of such assaults, and to raise awareness of the impact such actions have on local communities and also to call for the full weight of the judicial system to be brought to bear on anyone found guilty of attacking our crews."

NIAS director of operations Rosie Byrne said not all the incidents were bonfire-related and raised concerns about ongoing assaults on ambulance staff.

She said: “Throughout the year our staff are exposed to violence and aggression.

“Unfortunately it happens throughout the year and we are very aware of that. It is not isolated to the July holiday period.

“We have a zero tolerance. If you are in the back of one of our ambulances there are signs about what we do not tolerate and we ask for respect.

“I think anyone who can bring influence to bear on local communities, we would appeal for their support and their condemnation of such attacks.”

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