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Fighting violence towards ambulance staff

26 Sep 17:00 by

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Alex Grant, student paramedic at Anglia Ruskin University and for the London Ambulance Service, shares his thoughts on the subject of violence towards ambulance staff... 

Violence towards emergency service workers has become all too prevalent in recent years and the media does not seem to be doing enough to correctly inform the public that it is not acceptable. 

Violence can include both physical and verbal abuse, more too often against paramedics and ambulance service workers. It didn’t take me long at all to find out just how many assaults happen to these everyday heroes. In London alone, 451 medics reported a physical assault and 737 were verbally abused as they responded to emergency calls in 2012. Paramedic Leo Nakhimoff, 29, was assaulted when he attended a drunk patient in north London. He said: “When you’re going about your daily job treating patients you don’t expect to get attacked with a fence post – it was completely unprovoked. It affected me quite badly at the time and I questioned whether I wanted to continue working as a paramedic." 

It’s now at the back of my mind when I get called to similar incidents. At the end of the day, we’re here to help people and we don’t want to work in fear of being attacked. Violent attacks on ambulance staff in the capital have risen 23% in the past year. 

It's no surprise that alcohol is a factor. A recent study by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, revealed that almost half of paramedics in the north-east have been attacked on duty at least six times by drunken members of the public. The study also showed 42% of crews had reported being sexually assaulted. 

Director Colin Shevills said: "It's outrageous that paramedics don't feel safe in their working environment as a result of other people's alcohol misuse. These are people who are there to help us when we need it most, yet they are living in fear of physical and verbal abuse on a daily basis." 

The story is no different north of the border: more than 2,800 addresses in Scotland carry "violence warnings", 'flagged' to alert dispatchers to consider requesting police assistance before sending ambulance staff. 

Health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: "Frontline ambulance staff do an incredibly important job and they have the right to go about their normal duties without fear of being attacked. When someone is convicted of attacking a paramedic, the punishment should be severe enough to make it plainly clear that this will not be tolerated."

On completion of your degree in Paramedic Science, you have an understanding of your role as a frontline clinician, but you should never have to sign on at the station with the circling feeling that you are going to be abused on your long, emotionally exhausting and physically demanding shift. 

Before I started my degree in Paramedic Science I had done quite a few shifts in ambulance work for events: I had the odd scuffle and I was spat and sworn at on occasion. However, I am very lucky that I haven’t been physically assaulted, yet. ‘Yet’ is a word I shouldn’t have to type, but violence against paramedics has risen and is now a daily occurrence for my colleagues across the country. It’s something you simply can’t dodge: you cannot choose which patient to attend. As I embark on the road to becoming a London paramedic, I look forward to placement and getting ‘hands on’. I just know that at some stage in my career, violence will ensue, you just don’t know when or where.

Alex Grant is a student paramedic at Anglia Ruskin University and for the London Ambulance Service. You can follow him on Twitter @alexgrant947