Paramedics on the front line face increased abuse from people claiming to have Covid

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Being spat at or coughed at by people claiming to have Covid-19 is becoming a regular occurrence for paramedics working in the South West.

Emergency workers in the West Country say they are coming under attack from people using Covid as a weapon against them, with a 64 per cent increase on reports of violence and aggression against them.

South Western Ambulance staff say they've arrived at emergency call-outs only to have people spit at them, claiming to have coronavirus.

Paramedic James Hubbart told ITV News West Country: "It does seem to be getting worse with abuse against crews, particularly during the Covid pandemic.

"You do go home with it on your mind sometimes and it does have an impact on you and the job you do."

James and colleague Stuart Brookes had to briefly withdraw from treating a man in Bath when he became aggressive and spat at them. He was later jailed for 40 weeks.

Stuart Brookes (left) and James Hubbart (right) were spat at by a man in Bath during an emergency call-out. Credit: ITV News West Country

Stuart said: "He was shouting and swearing which, unfortunately, is something we're used to so didn't immediately feel the need to withdraw, but later on he did begin spitting at us."

Over a nine-day period during Christmas and the new year, South Western Ambulance Service staff reported 50 incidents of violence and aggression against them.

For the whole of 2020 there was more than 1,500 reported incidents of violence and aggression - a 64 per cent increase on 2019.

Earlier this week a man from Devon who works in a Covid-19 testing centre spoke out about the need to be prioritised for a vaccine, saying people regularly cough in his face.

Stuart Brookes says body worn cameras could act as a good deterrent from abusive behaviour. Credit: ITV News West Country

For ambulance crews in Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth, trial of body worn cameras, like those used by the police, proved a success last year.

A second, longer trial is expected later this year with ambulance crews arguing they would be a vital addition to their essential kit.

Stuart said: "They offer a good deterrent for any verbal or aggressive behaviour."

"They wouldn't really interfere with our ability to do our work. I think 90 per cent of the time we wouldn't need them. But I think as a deterrent it's good.

"Also if, unfortunately, we do find ourselves in a position where we are subject to aggression or violence they'll be good for evidence to prosecute which the service is very keen on doing."

James Hubbart says abuse towards ambulance crews is getting worse. Credit: ITV News West Country

The Trust is so concerned by the rise in attacks, it's appointed a Violence Reduction Officer, Mike Jones, who is also a paramedic.

He says: "There is a feeling amongst staff that there is a worry over the possibility of taking Covid home to your families and then to have been assaulted and abused on a daily basis on top of that, it gets to a point where some members of staff feel like they can't come to work."

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