The number of violent assaults on ambulance staff rose by more than a third (34%) in four years, according to the GMB union, with staff reporting that they had been bitten, stabbed and sexually assaulted.
Ambulance staff were subjected to a total of 14,441 physical assaults between 2012/13 and January this year, the union claimed, with almost three-quarters (72%) of staff affected.
A fifth (21%) of the 500 ambulance staff polled by the union had to take sick leave following an attack, and 37% said they had considered leaving their job because of the threat of violence.
Almost half (48%) claimed the support offered by their employer was “inadequate”.
This Friday (27 April) MPs will vote on whether to introduce tougher sentences for people who attack emergency services staff. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill will introduce a new offence of common assault on an emergency worker and require courts to treat attacks on emergency workers as an aggravating factor.
However, the GMB union criticised the Bill for failing to cover sexual assaults. Between 2012/13 and 2016/17, reported sexual assaults on ambulance staff increased by 211%, it claimed.
The GMB report – In harm’s way: confronting violence against NHS ambulance staff – revealed that attacks on ambulance personnel had a significant impact on workers’ physical and mental health.
One worker claimed they had been “attacked with a samurai sword repeatedly”, while others said they had been kicked, punched, slapped, stabbed, spat on and held at knifepoint.
One worker said: “I have had to have a hysterectomy because of injuries sustained … I have now returned to work but the impact on my life has been immense. I now cannot have children and will have ongoing problems for the rest of my life.”
Another explained that they had they had been attacked by a drunk patient in their ambulance: “Found out later patient was Hep C positive; resulting in blood tests for six months. The courts gave him a suspended sentence. It was a horrible six months for my family and I”.
Kevin Brandstatter, GMB NHS national officer, said the risk of violence against ambulance workers was rising as cuts to services increased the number of lone workers.
“No one should be told that facing violence is just ‘part of the job’. The number of attacks faced by ambulance workers as they try to save lives is beyond unacceptable.
“Changing the law will be an important first step as current sentences aren’t providing an adequate deterrent,” he said.
According to figures published earlier this month, physical assaults on NHS staff in England increased by 9.7% last year, compared to 2015/16.