NI paramedics being ‘pushed to breaking point’ over physical and verbal abuse
More than four out of five (86 per cent) paramedics based in Northern Ireland said they had feared for their safety or felt threatened while carrying out their duties, according to a major UK-wide survey published today.
This is well above the UK-wide figure of 70 per cent which was revealed by the College of Paramedics study.
The survey, which was completed by 2,345 UK paramedics including 70 based in the Northern Ireland also revealed that almost half of all respondents had suffered physical abuse while 80 per cent said they had been verbally abused during the course of their work.
These findings come a month after the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and representative trade unions launched a week-long social media campaign to highlight the issue of attacks on the service, with 600 reported incidents of abuse and assaults on ambulance personnel over the last 12 months.
Tracy Nicholls, chief executive of the College of Paramedics, said: “It’s absolutely outrageous to think that so many paramedics have been abused whilst carrying out their duties, going above and beyond to help people when they are at their most vulnerable, and often in the most challenging of circumstances. Worryingly, the abuse appears to have increased during the pandemic when paramedics are already exposing themselves to greater personal risk.
“Enough is enough! It is time for us all to take a stand and find new ways of working together to prevent abuse from happening, as well as demanding zero-tolerance when it does occur.
“We welcome the steps that the Government has taken to mitigate some of the risks by announcing that funding will be made available for body worn cameras and by introducing harsher custodial sentences for perpetrators of violence against paramedics – but more needs to be done.
“After years of lobbying, the legislation is now in place to ensure that the worst offenders are severely and appropriately dealt with. The problem is that the law is not being used to full effect and sentences are still far too lenient. We are calling today on the courts to step up and impose the harshest penalties available to them.”
The College of Paramedics has warned that the abuse paramedics are experiencing is having a direct impact on their health and wellbeing.
Most paramedics surveyed (89 per cent) said their jobs were taking a toll on their mental health and 69 per cent said this had intensified since the start of the covid pandemic.
Tracy Nicholls continued: “One of the most worrying aspects is that paramedics are continuing to soldier on, despite in some cases being pushed to breaking point.”
The College of Paramedics will form part of the NHS Health & Wellbeing team and will focus dedicated resources on the prevention of abuse and the provision of support to paramedics who have been affected.
As part of its five-year strategy, the College of Paramedics will engage with national initiatives which promote the health and wellbeing of its members and will include it within its Continuous Professional Development programmes so that members can access up-to-date information and guidance on how to keep themselves safe.
Tracy Nicholls added: “With the results of this survey, we are well placed to push forward collaboratively to make a difference in this area which is vital for the safeguarding of paramedics and the patients they are trying to assist.”