Two staff taken to hospital suffering injuries from attacks while at work with two ambulances destroyed and in need of extensive repairs.
Three ambulance crews were violently assaulted on Saturday night in separate incidents across the North East region, putting two staff in hospital, according to reports from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).
Drugs and alcohol appeared to be a significant factor in all three alleged assaults.
The violence unfolded over an horrific seven hours for ambulance staff as demand on the 999 service spiked over the course of Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning. This put an incredible strain on the service to respond in a timely manner, especially for those with a genuine life-saving need.
Deputy chief executive Paul Liversidge condemned the violence and promised the full weight and support of NEAS behind his staff to ensure justice is sought for those who suffered in these alleged attacks – which put two paramedics in hospital.
Doctors were so concerned for the injuries of one that he had to stay in hospital overnight before being discharged home.
Two ambulance vehicles were also damaged in two of the alleged attacks and will require thousands of pounds to repair before they can be dispatched on the road again.
Mr Liversidge said:
These were appalling and despicable attacks against our staff who had responded to 999 calls for help; in one case because a man was considered to have an immediate threat to his life and needed urgent medical care.
In this case, the patient became threatening and violent towards our staff and they were only protected by the good fortune of passing by a police station, where they were able to stop and run in for help.
Speaking a week after a paramedic was stabbed in the chest during a 999 call in the West Midlands, Mr Liversidge added:
We are seeing an increasing and very worrying trend of violence towards ambulance crews and other healthcare professionals.
NEAS crews already use CCTV on board vehicles and body-worn cameras are being introduced into the service following a successful pilot last year.
Mr Liversidge went on to say:
The NHS and NEAS has been under an enormous amount of pressure and strain dealing with coronavirus for the last four months. Our crews and staff are tired and I am concerned for the longer-term implications of this pandemic on their mental health.
For our staff to have been put under such an enormous pressure on Saturday night because of an increase in drink and drug related calls has become a real concern. We are still dealing with a coronavirus pandemic, which the sensible majority is helping the NHS to tackle.
But the acts of a foolish minority have now spilled over to violence and these people need to be swiftly and appropriately dealt with so that they do not put any others of my staff in any danger.
All three offences will be the first real test of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 for NEAS crews. Until now, we have thankfully not had the need to rely upon this new law, but we will now be looking for the support of the courts to keep our staff safe while they are at work.
The act, which only received Royal assent exactly 20 months’ ago on 13 November 2018, now makes it a specific crime to commit assault or battery against an emergency worker, punishable with up to 12 months in prison – double the previous maximum sentence – a fine or both.
Anna Parry, Deputy Managing Director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) says:
On behalf of the whole NHS ambulance service, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives condemns the despicable acts of violence against ambulance staff and vehicles in the North East in the strongest possible terms, and will fully support the trust in their attempts to bring those responsible to justice.
The Assaults on Emergency Workers Offences Act 2018 legislation is in place, but we must now see the judiciary consistently handing out the toughest sentences to those who stab, punch, kick, spit at, verbally abuse or otherwise attack our innocent ambulance staff who are trying to help care for patients and save lives.
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.
The first incident took place at a private address in Blyth just before 6pm on Saturday when NEAS received a call for man who had taken a suspected drugs overdose. When the crew arrived, another man in the same house became aggressive and allegedly assaulted one of the crew.
All three crew members retreated to the ambulance and locked themselves in the back with the patient, who still required treatment. Their assailant then began allegedly attacking the vehicle, throwing bricks at the side of the ambulance and smashing a window. A second ambulance was needed and one of the NEAS crew was taken to hospital for facial injuries before being discharged.
In the second incident, which occurred just after 7.30pm, an ambulance was called to an unconscious patient on a pavement in South Shields. This man regained consciousness and became verbally aggressive and threatening towards the NEAS crew. While en-route to hospital, it is alleged he then became physically violent, damaging equipment in the back of the ambulance and was only restrained when the crew pulled into a police station to seek help before continuing their journey to hospital.
There was no harm to the crew in South Shields, although the ambulance was damaged beyond use for the rest of the night. This vehicle and the other in Blyth will both need extensive repairs before they can be used on the road again.
In the final incident, an advanced technician crew, employed by a private company working on behalf of NEAS, was called to a patient suffering the effects of alcohol in South Hetton, County Durham, at just after 1am on Sunday. While attending to the patient, the advanced technician was allegedly kicked and punched before retreating from the house. The advanced technician later reported feeling unwell and was detained by doctors in hospital overnight to check for suspected internal injuries before he was discharged home.
In all three cases, police forces in Northumbria and Durham have arrested suspects in relation to all three assaults.