As you may already be aware body-worn cameras are currently being rolled out in a trial programme to all NHS Ambulance Trusts in England in a bid to help prevent and detect crimes being committed against ambulance staff. The ground-breaking move comes after new NHS England figures revealed that paramedics have suffered a 32 per cent rise in assaults over the past five years, with 3,569 incidents taking place in 2020/21 alone. It is the reason why the cameras are being issued now instead of 2024, when they were originally planned to be introduced, and it is hoped that all ten trusts will have their allocation of cameras by the end of July. A total of £8.4million was invested across all the trusts to operate a three year programme using the body-worn cameras, however, South East Coast Ambulance Service have only committed to one year across five of their stations.
Following a preliminary trial of the equipment at London Ambulance Service and North East Ambulance Service in February, paramedics and other frontline ambulance staff said they felt safer and better supported as a result of wearing the cameras. They also noted that the cameras helped to de-escalate situations when patients, service users, their relatives or other members of the public became aggressive towards them.
Kelvin Langford, a Senior Project Manager, Violence Prevention and Reduction Programme, NHS England and Improvement who is jointly leading the body worn camera trial, said: “The body-worn camera has been introduced to offer support and safeguard our staff. The use of the camera is not mandatory, however, we do encourage their usage wherever feasible. It remains the user’s decision to activate the camera during an incident where they feel at risk.”
While the response to wearing a body camera has largely been a positive one by paramedics, Martin Nicholas, Security Management and Violence Reduction Specialist for LAS, admits there is still some hesitancy amongst ambulance staff. “I think the main concern is that the camera could be used against them in some way,” he explains. “But this simply is not the case. The purpose of these cameras is to ensure staff safety. Of course, if a camera is turned on and there is a threat of violence or an act of violence against staff then ultimately the camera can be used as a prosecution tool.”
Over the next three years trusts will be expected to report back monthly on the impact of the cameras against an agreed set of data. Sam Harrison, a clinical team manager at LAS and alternate representative for London for the College of Paramedics took part in the trial at LAS. He said: “I have spoken with several members of staff who have needed to activate their camera, and it absolutely contributes to the protection of our crews. Locally, footage has so far been used to support the immediate placing of a risk marker on an individual’s address, where the premises are deemed too hazardous to crews to enter without police attendance. We have also had multiple requests from the Metropolitan Police for this footage to support their prosecutions. I have experienced activating the camera myself in an escalating situation which was very quickly diffused once I turned my camera on and voiced its presence.”
The rollout comes after a year in which NHS staff have treated more than 400,000 Covid patients while continuing to see millions of non-Covid conditions and successfully deliver the world’s first vaccination programme.