Home Britain Revealed: Hundreds of violent attacks on ambulance workers during COVID-19 crisis

Revealed: Hundreds of violent attacks on ambulance workers during COVID-19 crisis

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Ambulance workers in the UK have been subjected to hundreds of violent attacks during the coronavirus pandemic including an increase in sexual assaults, new figures have revealed.

A Sky News investigation found more than 1,600 physical assaults against ambulance staff were recorded between January and July as the country battled the COVID-19 crisis – the equivalent of more than seven attacks every day.

At least 149 sexual assaults on ambulance workers have taken place so far this year, as well as a rise in vandal attacks on ambulances and more than 2,000 verbal abuse incidents against crews, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Image: Two ambulance workers were injured last month after being assaulted in Coleshill, Warwickshire. Pic: West Midlands Ambulance Service

Many of the incidents involved weapons including firearms, knives, baseball bats, razor blades and a stun gun, ambulance trusts revealed.

In July, paramedics Deena Evans and Michael Hipgrave were seriously injured after being stabbed during a callout to a home in Wolverhampton.

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A man is due to stand trial next year accused of wounding with intent over the incident.

Paramedics Michael Hipgrave and Deena Evans were stabbed during a callout. Pic: West Midlands Ambulance Service
Image: Paramedics Michael Hipgrave and Deena Evans were stabbed during a callout in June. Pic: West Midlands Ambulance Service

In another incident, two ambulance workers were treated in hospital for a dislocated thumb, chest and arm injuries after being assaulted while trying to treat a man in Coleshill, Warwickshire, last month.

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And in July, a student paramedic was punched and knocked to the floor by a man during a callout in Blyth, Northumberland, before a brick was thrown at the ambulance.

Meanwhile, paramedic Brenda Fox and a colleague were attacked by a man in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, last year, with Ms Fox's daughter sharing a photo of her mother's bruised face.

A brick was thrown at an ambulance during an assault in Blyth, Northumberland in July. Pic: North East Ambulance Service
Image: A brick was thrown at an ambulance during an assault in Blyth, Northumberland, in July. Pic: North East Ambulance Service

London Ambulance Service paramedic Caitlyn, who did not want to give her surname, told Sky News she was spat on after being called to a man with a head injury in 2018.

"He was really aggressive towards us as a crew," she said.

"He spat on me, which landed on my face and went in my eye.

"It was quite upsetting and traumatising."

London Ambulance Service paramedic Caitlyn was spat on during a callout
Image: London Ambulance Service paramedic Caitlyn was spat on during a callout

She added: "We always experience aggression and violence – more verbal aggression, that's a daily occurrence.

"Being met by this level of aggression daily does make you question; do I want to be putting myself in this situation every day?"

Clinical care assistant Robert Barlow, who was attacked last year by a man who tried to stab him during a callout in the North East, told Sky News he had seen an increase in assaults in recent years.

Clinical care assistant Robert Barlow was attacked by a man who tried to stab him during a callout
Image: Robert Barlow was attacked by a man who tried to stab him during a callout

"I am seeing it a lot more – attacks on crews," he said.

"It isn't just me – my wife works in the service. She's been attacked and held up by her throat.

"It's getting quite scary.

"If it continues the trend, what's it going be like in 10 years' time?"

An ambulance window was smashed during an assault in Blyth, Northumberland in July. Pic: North East Ambulance Service
Image: An ambulance window was smashed during an assault in Blyth, Northumberland, in July. Pic: North East Ambulance Service

Sky News sent freedom of information requests to the UK's 13 NHS ambulance service trusts asking for details of assaults on their staff since 2018.

According to their responses:

  • A total of 1,604 physical assaults on ambulance workers were recorded between January and July, with the rate of offences almost the same as last year but nearly 19% higher than 2018
  • At least 149 sexual assaults on ambulance staff took place in the same period – with the rate of offences up nearly 8% on 2019 and 42% on 2018
  • Vandal attacks on ambulances have also soared, with at least 45 between January and July – a rate which is up nearly a quarter (24%) on 2019 and 162% on 2018
  • Weapons were involved in 97 assaults or verbal abuse incidents targeting ambulance workers in 2020 – almost the same rate as 2019 but a more than 12% increase on 2018
  • A total of 2,086 verbal abuse incidents have been recorded against ambulance crews this year – an average of nearly 10 a day – with the rate of incidents up 7% on 2019 and a 23% on 2018

The figures do not include the Scottish Ambulance Service, which did not respond to Sky News' freedom of information request; West Midlands Ambulance Service which provided figures for physical assaults and verbal abuse incidents over financial years, not calendar years, so could not be included; and Yorkshire Ambulance Service which provided data on assaults and verbal abuse incidents between 2018 and July 2020 but did not reveal how many occurred each year.

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