Three emergency 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, according to a spokesperson for NEAS.
The violence unfolded over what has been described as a ‘horrific’ seven hours for emergency ambulance staff as demand on the 999 service spiked throughout Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning.
The influx of 999 calls put an impossible strain on the emergency service to respond promptly to emergency calls, especially for those with a genuine life-saving need.
Deputy chief executive Paul Liversidge condemned the violence.
He promised the full weight and support of NEAS behind his staff to ensure justice is sought for those who suffered in these alleged violent attacks – which put two paramedics in hospital.
Doctors were so concerned about the injuries of one of the paramedics that he had to stay in hospital overnight before being discharged home.
Two ambulance vehicles were also damaged in two of the alleged attacks.
The vehicles will require thousands of pounds to repair before they can be dispatched on the road again and the fact that they are now out of service will mean that NEAS’s ability to respond to 999 calls will be further hampered.
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 two paramedics were stabbed after responding to 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 onboard their emergency vehicles and body-worn cameras are being introduced into the service following a successful pilot last year.
Mr Liversidge added:
“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,” added Mr Liversidge.
The act, which only received Royal assent 20 months’ ago on 13th November 2018, now makes it a specific offence to assault an emergency worker, punishable with up to 12 months in prison – double the previous maximum sentence – a fine or both.
The first harrowing incident took place at a private address in Blyth just before 6 pm on Saturday when NEAS received a call for a man who had taken a suspected drugs overdose.
When the emergency ambulance 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 emergency 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 7.30 pm, 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.
He was only restrained when the emergency ambulance crew managed 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 1 am 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 kept 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 concerning all three assaults.
Meanwhile, Gwent Police have appealed for information after three of their response vehicles were damaged after rocks were thrown at them.
Thankfully, no officers were hurt in the attacks.
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