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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Orlaith Clinton

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service staff attacked almost 700 times over 12 month period

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service staff have been subject to almost 700 incidents of abuse and attacks in the last 12 months.

Figures obtained by Belfast Live through a Freedom of Information request show that from July 1, 2021, to July 17, 2022, there was 684 attacks on staff. These incidents included verbal, physical, psychological and sexual forms of abuse.

In the same time period, records held by HRPTS revealed that 37 staff members with the NI Ambulance Service were off with work related stress.

Read more: Ambulance service issues warning over low staffing levels

While the majority of these attacks are directed towards operational staff responding to calls, staff based in Control Centres are also the victims of these behaviours. NIAS says whilst the severity of such attacks varies, the impact does not.

"It is never acceptable to assume that assaults upon ambulance service staff should be tolerated; it is not simply ‘part of the job’," a spokesperson told Belfast Live on Tuesday.

"While it is clear that the nature of pre-hospital care requires staff to handle difficult and hostile situations, assaults upon them are extremely serious and completely unacceptable. There are many ways in which assaults against ambulance staff impact upon society.

"Each time a member of staff is assaulted there are potential sickness absences, which impacts on our ability to provide appropriate levels of cover. They also place additional strain on other members of the organisation due to the transfer of work to others, which can have significant impact on the wellbeing of staff.

"On average in Northern Ireland there are around 14 acts of aggression against ambulance staff per week. These incidents result in members of the organisation being absent through sickness every day of the year, which clearly affects the community as it limits the service that can be provided."

The NIAS said that attacks on their staff not only have a negative impact on the victims, but that it affects the community and also internally to the organisation with ambulance staff suffering not just physical injuries, but psychological effects too.

NIAS stock image (Stock/Justin Kernoghan)

"Many find the return to work after being assaulted, especially challenging or traumatic.," they added.

"On a wider scale, morale is significantly impacted when staff see their friends and colleagues being assaulted and abused which, in turn, can damage the ability of the service to recruit new people into the organisation.

"The public call upon the ambulance service to help them when they are most in need. We have a duty to protect the public, but we are all too often prevented from doing so due to violent individuals who choose to attack those who are there to help them.

"Finally, and most importantly, it should be remembered that ambulance staff are people; they are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. When they are attacked, they become victims just like any other, but victims who have been attacked while trying to care for others."

Northern Ireland ambulance workers have started using body-worn cameras in a bid to reduce violent attacks, with the trial involving an ambulance station in East Belfast. It comes after crews have been attacked with weapons including a tomahawk hatchet, knuckle-duster, snooker balls, carpet knife, according to the NIAS.

Mark Cochrane, Assistant Director of Operations with the NIAS, said it is due to the increasing attacks that the the decision to wear body-worn-cameras was made.

He added: "The unacceptable nature and increasing frequency of assaults on our crews has necessitated us introducing a pilot of body worn cameras in the Belfast area where most attacks take place. We would hope that the visibility of the cameras and the warning from staff that the camera may be switched on will act as a deterrent to those who may be prone to engaging in this activity.

"But we must stress that we will not hesitate to use any footage that may help a prosecution of such people. It is unfortunate that the actions of a small few have brought us to this point and we are confident that we have the support of the general public in regards to the introduction of such measures to protect our staff."

Responding to the FOI findings, People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll urged people to treat frontline workers with respect.

Mr Carroll said: "NIAS staff carry out incredible, life-saving work and should be able to do so without fear of abuse or physical attack. These statistics are utterly shocking. The extent and nature of the attacks on ambulance workers is contemptible. That so few workers were forced out of work as result is a testament to their dedication.

"Those responsible for such attacks are clearly a minority, but their actions amounted to almost two attacks on NIAS staff every single day for the past year. This is unacceptable. While there is no quick and easy solution to this issue, I would urge the public to treat ambulance workers with the respect they deserve. All of us depend on the incredible work they do and we should always be mindful of that fact."

Mr Carroll noted that, as well as suffering attacks, NIAS workers face constant pressure due to poor staffing levels. He further called on the Health Minister to invest in NIAS staff.

"NIAS workers are a crucial part of our health service and should be given a real pay rise," he added.

"Their wages should reflect their immeasurable contribution as well as the pressures they face. We can’t hope to recruit and retain NIAS staff while offering existing staff a pittance."

On a recent visit to Enniskillen NIAS depot Minister Robin Swann condemned attacks on staff (Philip Magowan / Press Eye)

Health Minister Robin Swann condemned the reports of attacks on staff saying it is "beyond belief".

In a statement to Belfast Live on Tuesday, the minister said: "I am absolutely appalled at reports of threats and attacks experienced by ambulance staff, who have put themselves on the line for the rest of us time and time again. It is beyond belief that they should be on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour.

"I know that a public consultation is ongoing about body worn video cameras and that measures to improve staff safety are being put in place. I hope that ambulance crews on the road and in the control room, take comfort from the fact that the vast majority of people here regard them as heroes and are as incensed as I am that they are ever subjected to ill treatment."


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