Over 1,500 assaults on paramedics a year – but new law won't stop the violence

July 10, 2018 by John Ambrose, The Conversation
Credit: Shutterstock/JaromirChalabala

Paramedics face violence on a daily basis so a new law which will bring in tougher sentences for those who attack emergency workers when they are on duty is most welcome. It is hoped it will act as a deterrent because offenders currently escape what many would see as meaningful justice (attackers are charged with common assault resulting in a maximum sentence of six months). The new law will double this with an option for a longer sentence, dependant on the seriousness of the case. But will this toughening up of sentencing powers actually have any impact on the front line?

The damage to those affected by this violence can be long lasting and have widespread implications for their physical and mental health. Violence against should not be seen as an "occupational hazard". More needs to be done to highlight this increasing and dangerous issue affecting today's paramedic workforce.

In 2014/2015, 44 out of every 1,000 workers suffered a form of assault. That is a total of 1,861 assaults for that year. And these are just the assaults that were reported – many go unreported.

An international issue

Paramedics deliver care at the front line of the NHS. The unpredictable nature of the means that they are constantly at risk of harm. Without doubt, this is a national and, indeed, international issue. For example, a recent study reviewed the impact of violence against paramedics across 13 countries, concluding that 65% of those responding had been assaulted.

It is sometimes assumed that violence and aggression are always associated with alcohol. And yes, alcohol can play a part. But this is not always the case. Only recently paramedics have been verbally and physically abused as result of the way a crew had parked the ambulance while dealing with an emergency.

In Australia ambulance staff are taking a stand and are demanding action. Crews there have even taken to writing slogans on their ambulances.

Paramedics and ambulance services in the UK are also beginning to take a more direct approach with the involvement of the College of Paramedics, which is calling for more deescalation training and is representing the interests of UK crews.

A paramedic's main focus is to care for the patients they are sent to. They are there to help. But it is all too easy for families, friends, bystanders – and even the patients – to feel they need to vent frustrations against the ambulance crew.

Ambulance crews understand that in an emergency situation the public are not used to the situation they find themselves in. This anxiety and stress has to be managed by the crews at the scene.

The new law may have an impact, but in the presence of a stressful and challenging emergency situation – which may or may not involve alcohol and drugs – will the public consider the implications of a new law and their subsequent actions? I suspect that the bill will not be considered at all. It seems the threshold for violence has been reduced in the UK. It has become almost a default reaction by some against NHS staff with an increase in violent attacks between 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 of 9.7%.

A paramedic that has been assaulted will gain support from their employer and rightly so. They will have stress management policies and counselling services at their disposal, and will be supported through any subsequent prosecution process. But the effects can be devastating – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, issues, lack of confidence to go back to work and fear of it happening again are all common.

Raising awareness

Paramedics do have training in "deescalation" and ambulance trusts do take the issue seriously. The North West Ambulance NHS Trust assured staff that any acts of or aggression against them by the public will be taken further.

But don't have any other protection. They do not ware stab proof vests, they do not carry any form of defence or deterrent and nor should they have to.

It must be time to use the opportunity of this bill and approach the issue before any crime has been committed. The public must be educated. A national campaign focusing on protecting emergency care workers and indeed any worker within the NHS is much needed. Violence against people doing their job is unacceptable. And the cost to individuals, the NHS and the public is too great.

Explore further: New drug to tame violent patients

Related Stories

New drug to tame violent patients

May 2, 2018
Australian paramedics are leading the world by introducing a new drug, droperidol, to quickly and safely calm violent patients fueled by alcohol and drugs.

New research highlights experiences of ambulance control workers

March 30, 2016
Staff who coordinate emergency services for 999 calls to the ambulance service require support to reduce stress and sickness absence, new research has found.

Study: Paramedics' risk of being assaulted exceeds firefighting colleagues

January 22, 2016
Research out of Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health determined that emergency medical technicians and paramedics are 14 times more likely to be violently injured on the job than the firefighters they work ...

Domestic and family violence common amongst front line health workers

July 3, 2018
The first study investigating domestic and family violence among female healthcare workers in Australia has found that almost half of them (45 per cent) has experienced family violence, including one in nine who had experienced ...

Hospital or home? Guidelines to assess older people who have fallen

March 22, 2017
Guidelines to help paramedics make the right decision for older people who have fallen are safe, cost-effective and help reduce further 999 calls, according to new research led by a team at Swansea University Medical School.

Recommended for you

India launches 'Modicare', world's biggest health scheme

September 23, 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday launched the world's biggest health insurance scheme, promising free coverage for half a billion of India's poorest citizens ahead of national elections next year.

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Smart pills dumb down medical care, experts warn

September 21, 2018
Enthusiasm for an emerging digital health tool, the smart pill, is on the rise but researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics that cautions health care ...

Crunched for time? High-intensity exercise = same cell benefits in fewer minutes

September 20, 2018
A few minutes of high-intensity interval or sprinting exercise may be as effective as much longer exercise sessions in spurring beneficial improvements in mitochondrial function, according to new research. The small study ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.