Following on from our previous blog on assaults on emergency staff during Covid 19, calls are now being made for tougher sentences against those in the emergency services as cases of attacks continue to increase – particularly as lockdown restrictions begin to ease across the UK.
According to a recent report from the Crown Prosecution Service, there were 1,688 cases where people were charged with assaulting an emergency worker for a reason that was linked to Covid-19. This was in the six months to 30 September 2020 alone and included being coughed on or spat at, as well as emergency workers being kicked, punched, threatened and verbally abused.
More recently, at the launch of a campaign by Wales’ emergency services, Gwent Police Chief Constable Pam Kelly has spoken out condemning abuse suffered by staff and that penalties didn’t go far enough. This comes after the latest figures for Wales showed attacks including biting and spitting were, on average, 10% higher a month during the pandemic.
Similarly, assaults and abuse against ambulance staff at an NHS trust have increased by a third in the past year. Staff at South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) have been subjected to 1,747 incidents since the first UK lockdown, representing a 33% increase on the previous 12 months.
As the UK prepares to ease restrictions and businesses start opening up again, there are concerns that these cases could rise further – particularly if there is alcohol involved.
Gwent Police Chief Constable Pam Kelly said: “My concern is that sometimes the sentences are not what they ought to be and, therefore, our staff are not reporting assaults against themselves because they don’t feel like people are listening to them.
In an article on the BBC website, newly qualified paramedics reported an assault by a patient when on duty after they were called out to reports of a man unconscious on a bus. The man became physically and verbally aggressive before shouting at them and spat in one of the paramedic’s eyes.
However figures from the emergency services show a peak in assaults occurred while lockdown restrictions were being eased last summer – with 256 cases recorded in July and 253 in August. Most assaults were on police officers, with a third resulting in injury. The data also shows there were more than 600 instances of ambulance staff being attacked between April 2019 and November 2020.
But proportionately fewer assaults on ambulance staff resulted in some form of criminal proceedings.
The Home Office said it was doubling maximum sentences for such attacks, but there are things employers can do in the meantime to ensure their staff are kept safe.
John from Basis said: “We’ve seen and heard for ourselves from those who have worked on the frontline throughout Covid, about how they have faced increased levels of violence and aggression, but didn’t feel they could report it as cases weren’t taken seriously. This is a real problem, as it leads to staff suffering in silence and even going off sick due to stress or fear for their own safety – leaving employers short staffed and equally concerned for the individual.”
SBRT Ltd offers a Prevention and Management of Violence and Aggression (PMVA) course for both beginners and refreshers, which can show effective ways these front line staff can protect themselves. PMVA teaches ways to diffuse a situation before it escalates, as well as ways in which staff can use both contact and non-contact methods to protect themselves.