Ambulance workers have been subject to at least 9,565 attacks in the line of duty since 2018, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by GMB Union.
They were bitten, head-butted, spat at and struck with weapons during the attacks over the past 5 years, and 1,258 of these were reported to be sexual assaults.
2018/2019 saw 1,597 attacks, followed by 2020/2021 with 1,871 attacks, 2019/2020 with 1,924. The highest number of attacks was seen in 2021/2022 with 2,141 attacks and it was followed by 2022/2023 with 2,032 attacks.
The numbers show that there has been a 27% rise in the number of violent incidents in the last five years, according to GMB.
And the true numbers are considered to be far higher as only eight of 13 ambulance trusts across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are reported to have responded to the FOI request.
The figures were collected starting from 2018, when GMB’s ambulance members succeeded in changing the law and the Assaults Against Emergency Workers (Offences) Act made assaults on ambulance workers an aggravating factor for sentencing.
“So many staff suffer from PTSD”
Speaking at the GMB conference on Sunday in Brighton, Richard Harlington, who has worked for 12 years in the sector, said at least five ambulance workers are assaulted every day.
He said: “Assaults on ambulance staff have never been higher. We did amazing work to bring stronger laws and protect our protectors, however unfortunately this only works if people are charged.
“At this time unfortunately for many people in the ambulance sector we do not see this.
“Staff are often forced to return to work before they are ready due to pressures from management under sickness policies, without regard for their actual welfare and need.
“So many staff suffer from physical or sexual assaults that result in PTSD and they get no real support from their work.
“Ambulance workers deserve so much better than being assaulted when they are just trying to protect the public.
“We deserve to be protected from assaults, and we deserve for assaults to be properly prosecuted, and we demand to be fully supported and treated with dignity.”
During the conference, Wendy Cox, who has worked for the service for 28 years also pointed out the rise in violence.
She gave an example of a female member of staff who had her chest grabbed by a mental health patient which left her with PTSD.
Wendy Cox also told of how one paramedic had his testicles “twisted and grabbed” by the son of a patient who believed his father had a stroke, after waiting four hours for an ambulance.
GMB calls for better systems to flag offenders
In 2021, a total of 11,749 staff were abused, attacked or physically assaulted, according to a separate report from Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), which corresponded to a staggering 32 ambulance staff being assaulted every day – more than one attack during every hour of every day throughout the whole year.
“The most significant rise covered the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when assaults jumped up by 23% compared with the year before,” AACE said.
“They included kicking, slapping, head-butting and verbal abuse, and ranged from common assault to serious attacks involving knives and weapons.”
Earlier this year a man was jailed for three years after he sexually assaulted an ambulance worker and urinated on life-saving equipment.
James Macky, 58, from London was sentenced for sexual assault, criminal damage, and causing racially aggravated fear or provocation of violence.
He was sent to three years behind bars after the violent and disgusting attack last summer and he was also placed on the sex offenders register for life.
Last week, North East Ambulance Service shared photos of an emergency ambulance which was vandalised whilst a crew was attending to a patient.
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Secretary, said: “Ambulance workers go to work every day to save lives.
“Despite this, thousands of them are bitten, attacked, spat at and even sexually assaulted.
“No one should have to put up with that, least of all those who are there to protect us.
“GMB members helped change the law but more needs to be done.
“We demand full enforcement of the Protect the Protectors legislation, investment in better systems to flag offenders, and much better support for the victims of violence.”
(Image: Courtesy of GMB Union)