Paramedic calls for body-worn cameras in Welsh Ambulance Service after being punched by patient

  • Paramedic Rhys Morgan details the physical and mental challenges he's faced since being assaulted, and why he thinks body-worn cameras are essential

A paramedic has called for the use of body-worn cameras in the Welsh Ambulance Service after he was punched, grabbed and pushed by a patient he was treating.

Rhys Morgan, 32, from Bridgend, broke his wrist as a result of the assault, and his pre-existing scoliosis - a curvature of the spine - was made worse by the fall.

The dad-of-two was forced to take eight months off work to recover, during which he was unable to drive or play with his children due to the strong medication he was prescribed.

He has also been diagnosed with anxiety and said he is "constantly on the back foot" since returning to work following the incident in January 2022.

Last month Mr Morgan's attacker was handed a four month suspended prison sentence, ordered to pay £100 in compensation and attend 20 days of rehabilitation activity.

However, he believes she would have received a tougher sentence had there been footage of the attack.

The number of assaults on emergency workers are increasing, according to the Welsh Ambulance Service.

On the day of the assault, Mr Morgan was called to a female patient in Cardiff "known to be a regular caller" who was complaining of severe pain in her abdomen.

Explaining what happened when he arrived and tried to administer pain relief, he said: "She swung out and unfortunately the needle then went from her and into my left index finger.

"Once we'd taken her to hospital and were preparing to leave, she threw herself off the bed, grabbing my wrist, then pushed me through a door, where I hit the ground again."It took three security officers and a duty manager to restrain her."

'I try to keep out of harm's way'

Mr Morgan returned to work around five weeks ago, but said he is much more cautious than before the attack.

"I won't tend to go through a door first, I step behind my colleague.

"I will try and withdraw people from their homes and put them onto a vehicle, which I class as my safe space where I feel I can control the situation, or bring them outside so I'm not so much isolated into a small area.

"So basically just trying to open up my exit routes, but I never, ever did that before.

"I could be on the way to a job thinking 'this could be someone that's agitated, quite angry', and I will more often than not ask control if police are attending because it just puts me on the back foot."

Mr Morgan feels uncertain about the future of his career since the attack.

The Welsh Ambulance Service launched a campaign against the abuse of emergency workers in 2021, after figures revealed a rise in the number of assaults.

Between April 2019 and November 2020, more than 4,240 assaults were committed against emergency workers, including police, fire and ambulance crews.

That represents a monthly average increase of 10%.

In 2020, the UK Government announced that anyone found guilty of assaulting an emergency services worker would face tougher sentences - bringing the maximum jail time up from 12 months to two years.

Jason Killens, chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: "In Wales we do actually see reasonably stiff penalties being dispensed by the judicial system when physical assaults occur.

"But of course by then it's too late, the staff are injured, they're impacted by that injury and often have to spend many weeks or months off work recovering.

"So our message to the community is very simple: work with us, not against us.

"Don't assault our people because there is never an excuse for that to occur, and we will always seek a prosecution and the toughest possible sentence."

'A moment's violence can have lifelong consequences'

Mr Morgan said: "What I'd like to see from here on is body cameras - it's a deterrent on its own.

"If we had a body camera on and that was then presented to the judge, would that judge then have increased the conviction on what she actually saw, instead of what she's heard?

"I genuinely do think they need to be looked at because of the increase of assaults, it just keeps going up and up and up and nothing seems to change apart from the lives of the people that go out to try and help the ones who've called."

In 2021, it was announced that ambulance crews in England would be given body-worn cameras following trials in London and the north east of England.

In 2021, ambulance crews in England were given body-worn cameras following trials in London and the north east of England. Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Ambulance Service said it does have an ambition to provide staff with body-worn cameras but is limited by funding, particularly while dealing with other challenges like increased demand and staff shortages.

The Welsh Government said it's "working with NHS Wales employers and partners to eradicate physical or verbal assaults on staff", but has not yet received a formal request to fund body-worn cameras for ambulance workers.

Mr Morgan is now waiting for an operation on his spine, which he said has become more urgent since the assault.

He feels "really worried" about the future of his career, but is kept going by the positives of the job.

"I think the only thing that keeps going round in my head is, for example, we see 50 patients a week, out of that 50 we see five that are verbally abusive, aggressive.

"But that's outweighed by the 45 people that you've made smile, or saved their lives, or delivered their child."