Threats while resuscitating patients, spitting at staff outside accident and emergency departments and punches thrown by drunks are just a snapshot of the abuse suffered by frontline ambulance workers.
Today, paramedics have spoken out about the damage that physical and verbal abuse can have on their job and lives. Their testimonies come after a Freedom of Information request by The Yorkshire Post revealed that the number of frontline medics assaulted every year is soaring.
The abuse recorded by Yorkshire Ambulance Service against staff since 2013/14 includes 145 reports of punching, 24 of biting and 34 workers being spat at.
Steve Krebs, a paramedic of 30 years, was verbally abused and spat at inside his ambulance by a 17-year-old patient who had taken drugs.
“He demanded to get out of the vehicle while it was moving,” Mr Krebs said. “When it was safe we let him out then he swore and spat at me. I didn’t come in to this job to be spat at – that’s the worst thing. I could accept being hit but to be spat at, that’s so degrading, it’s inhumane to spit at someone. But you just have to move on.”
The incident happened outside York Hospital’s A&E department in 2014.
Mr Krebs, who is branch secretary of Unite the union and lead representative in North Yorkshire for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said the abuse has risen during his years as a paramedic. In one case while treating a woman who had collapsed, a man inside a house in Hull threw stereo speakers at him.
He said: “There have been times when we have been trying to restart people’s hearts and have had to double-park the ambulance on the street. People have come into the house and threatened us to move our ambulance.”
The figures also revealed there were 48 reports of sexual abuse during the three-year period.
“One member of staff has said that someone tried to put his hands between her legs in the back of an ambulance in the last few years,” the 59-year-old added.
The rise in abuse has come as more young people – and women – are joining the ambulance service in Yorkshire, and there are now more all-female crews.
Mr Krebs said: “There are more women joining now than ever before, which is fantastic because it offers something different – there are times when a woman could defuse a situation that two men might make worse.
“But because of that, there are a lot of all-female crews attending incidents and they can get abuse of sexual innuendo or sexual verbal abuse. That’s worse than physical abuse in the context because, from my perspective, at some point it easier to get over a physical injury.”
He said that both the union and Yorkshire Ambulance Service are there to support assault victims.
Mr Krebs added: “People who are taking calls in the control centre are also regularly getting verbally abused two or three times a day, every day of the week.
“There’s no need for the sort of language, these people are trying to do their job for the benefit of the public.”
Calls have been made for the law to be extended to include assaults against NHS workers – as well as prison, immigration and police officers.
Paramedic Steve Krebs said assaults on emergency services staff need to be outlawed.
He said: “There is a bit of apprehension now when we get a call.
“It’s got worse over the years. “We have accepted it as part of the job but it has got worse.
“The punishment has got to fit the crime.
“If members of emergency services staff have been affected by abuse, they are having to take time off work and that impacts on the service that is being provided to the public.
“The implications of that are not just time, but lives.
“Assaults on emergency service staff need to be outlawed.
“We need to get back to making the public aware that if emergency services staff are assaulted, action will be taken against them.”