Scale of abuse on frontline Yorkshire medics is revealed

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A rising number of frontline medics trying to save lives in emergencies are being assaulted, prompting calls for a change in the law to protect ambulance workers.

Attacks on Yorkshire Ambulance Service staff on duty include spitting, biting, punching and in some cases sexual abuse.

The catalogue of more than 1,500 reports of physical and verbal abuse against medics over a three-year period has been revealed through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

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Today calls have been made for the law, which has specific offences for assaulting a police, prison or immigration officer, to be extended to include crimes against NHS workers.

It comes after Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed in the House of Commons this week that the Health Secretary would consider the issue.

Frontline staff assaulted on duty have spoken to The Yorkshire Post and revealed the emotional damage suffered as a result of

the abuse. More than 40 per cent of the assaults on staff, between April 2013 and April 2016, led to injury.

Yvette Cooper, MP for Pontefract and Castleford and the chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told The Yorkshire Post: “NHS staff and paramedics work incredibly hard looking after people at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. That’s what makes these figures so disgraceful – we should not stand for violence against NHS workers.

“I have long supported stronger protection in the law for people who are attacked and assaulted as part of their jobs, including NHS staff, care workers and shop workers. People shouldn’t feel they are at risk just for doing their jobs.”

The ambulance service recorded almost 700 cases of aggressive behaviour and 400 cases of threatening behaviour, as the figures show 145 medics were punched, 24 bitten and 34 spat at.

Nearly 600 members of staff were verbally abused. There were also 48 reports of sexual abuse, three cases of stalking and 19 people targeted with racial abuse.

Terry Cunliffe, a regional officer for the Unite union, which represents frontline ambulance workers, said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable to have people who are sent there to save people’s’ lives be assaulted. “We want the courts to take significant action on assaults against emergency services personnel. Our members deserve better protection from the courts and their employers.”

The number of staff assaulted has risen by nearly 50 per cent in the three-year period, from 406 in 2013/14 to 606 in 2015/16.

The highest volume of incidents, 461, occurred in Leeds, Airedale and Bradford district. In South Yorkshire, the service recorded 433 while North Yorkshire had the least at 192, followed by Hull and East Yorkshire with 194.

Dr David Macklin, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust’s executive director of operations, said: “The safety of our employees is of paramount importance and we operate a zero tolerance policy - action will be taken against anyone who assaults our staff. Ambulance service staff do a difficult job, often in challenging circumstances.

“Physical and verbal attacks on any member of NHS staff are completely unacceptable and we are doing everything we can to prevent them.”