Coronavirus: Hundreds of violent attacks on ambulance workers during COVID-19 crisis

September 07, 2020

Ambulance workers in the UK have been subjected to hundreds of violent attacks during the coronavirus pandemic including an increase in sexual assaults, new figures have revealed.

A Sky News investigation found more than 1,600 physical assaults against ambulance staff were recorded between January and July as the country battled the COVID-19 crisis - the equivalent of more than seven attacks every day.

At least 149 sexual assaults on ambulance workers have taken place so far this year, as well as a rise in vandal attacks on ambulances and more than 2,000 verbal abuse incidents against crews, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.

:: Shotguns, sledgehammers, snooker cues - read the full breakdown of ambulance worker attacks here

Many of the incidents involved weapons including firearms, knives, baseball bats, razor blades and a stun gun, ambulance trusts revealed.

In July, paramedics Deena Evans and Michael Hipgrave were seriously injured after being stabbed during a callout to a home in Wolverhampton.

A man is due to stand trial next year accused of wounding with intent over the incident.

In another incident, two ambulance workers were treated in hospital for a dislocated thumb and chest and arm injuries after being assaulted while trying to treat a man in Coleshill, Warwickshire, last month.

And in July, a student paramedic was punched and knocked to the floor by a man during a callout in Blyth, Northumberland, before a brick was thrown at the ambulance.

Meanwhile, paramedic Brenda Fox and a colleague were attacked by a man in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, last year, with Ms Fox's daughter sharing a photo of her mother's bruised face.

London Ambulance Service paramedic Caitlyn, who did not want to give her surname, told Sky News she was spat on after being called to a man with a head injury in 2018.

"He was really aggressive towards us as a crew," she said.

"He spat on me, which landed on my face and went in my eye.

"It was quite upsetting and traumatising."

She added: "We always experience aggression and violence - more verbal aggression, that's a daily occurrence.

"Being met by this level of aggression daily does make you question; do I want to be putting myself in this situation every day?"

Clinical care assistant Robert Barlow, who was attacked last year by a man who tried to stab him during a callout in the North East, told Sky News he had seen an increase in assaults in recent years.

"I am seeing it a lot more - attacks on crews," he said.

"It isn't just me - my wife works in the service. She's been attacked and held up by her throat.

"It's getting quite scary.

"If it continues the trend, what's it going be like in 10 years' time?"

Sky News sent freedom of information requests to the UK's 13 NHS ambulance service trusts asking for details of assaults on their staff since 2018.

According to their responses:

  • A total of 1,604 physical assaults on ambulance workers were recorded between January and July, with the rate of offences almost the same as last year but nearly 19% higher than 2018
  • At least 149 sexual assaults on ambulance staff took place in the same period - with the rate of offences up nearly 8% on 2019 and 42% on 2018
  • Vandal attacks on ambulances have also soared, with at least 45 between January and July - a rate which is up nearly a quarter (24%) on 2019 and 162% on 2018
  • Weapons were involved in 97 assaults or verbal abuse incidents targeting ambulance workers in 2020 - almost the same rate as 2019 but a more than 12% increase on 2018
  • A total of 2,086 verbal abuse incidents have been recorded against ambulance crews this year - an average of nearly 10 a day - with the rate of incidents up 7% on 2019 and 23% on 2018

The figures do not include the Scottish Ambulance Service, which did not respond to Sky News' freedom of information request; West Midlands Ambulance Service which provided figures for physical assaults and verbal abuse incidents over financial years, not calendar years, so could not be included; and Yorkshire Ambulance Service which provided data on assaults and verbal abuse incidents between 2018 and July 2020 but did not reveal how many occurred each year.

Among the other notable findings:

  • London Ambulance Service said staff had faced 355 physical assaults between January and July, with weapons including a knife and a baseball bat used to threaten or injure workers in 16 incidents
  • North East Ambulance Service said 114 physical assaults have been recorded against their workers this year, while three assaults/verbal abuse incidents involved weapons including a stun gun, a kitchen knife and a razor blade
  • East Midlands Ambulance Service, which recorded 208 physical attacks on staff, said 37 assaults or verbal abuse incidents involved weapons including firearms, knives, razor blades and scissors
  • The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said weapons used to threaten or attack their staff since 2018 included a double-barrel shotgun, a crossbow, a Tomahawk axe, a sledgehammer, a crowbar and a snooker cue
  • The North West, North East and East Midlands ambulance services recorded more sexual assaults against their workers between January and July this year than in those regions for the whole of 2018
  • The East of England Ambulance Service recorded 40 sexual assaults against staff between January and July this year - a rate of offences up 36% on 2019 and 46% on 2018

A law introduced in 2018 has seen the maximum sentence for common assault on paramedics, police officers, firefighters and prison officers increase from six months to 12.

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) said it condemned the "deplorable acts of violence against ambulance staff and vehicles in the strongest possible terms and will fully support attempts to bring those responsible to justice".

Anna Parry, the AACE's deputy managing director, said: "Disgracefully, this is happening on a daily basis across the UK and the perpetrators must be appropriately prosecuted in a concerted and sustained attempt to stop this happening."

Prerana Issar, chief people officer for the NHS, said the health service "will not tolerate violence towards our colleagues".

"Anyone who engages in violence or abuse - towards patients or staff - will be reported and dealt with by the authorities to face prosecution," she added.

A government spokesperson said: "Assaults on emergency workers are totally unacceptable.

"The government is working with the NHS and Crown Prosecution Service to crackdown on anyone who abuses health workers and prevents them from doing their lifesaving work."

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