Every day last year, a staggering 32 ambulance staff were abused or attacked – more than one during every hour of every day throughout the whole year: a total of 11,749 staff. This was an increase of 4,060 incidents over the last five years. The most significant rise covered the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when assaults jumped up by 23% compared with the year before.
The assaults included kicking, slapping, head-butting and verbal abuse, and ranged from common assault to serious attacks involving knives and weapons.
The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives – with support from NHS England - has launched the national #WorkWithoutFear campaign to highlight the profound impact of this abuse on the everyday lives of ambulance staff and to encourage the minority of people who might commit these offences to have respect for the people who are trying to help them, their friends and families when they need it most.
Bradley – WMAS Call Assessor
Bradley is 28 years old and is a dual-trained Call Assessor, answering both 111 and 999 calls. He is based at the West Midlands Ambulance Service control room in Brierley Hill. Bradley joined in 2019 and qualified as a Call Assessor after completing his training in March 2020, just as the pandemic took hold. Bradley lives in Dudley with his partner and newborn baby.
During a night shift at Navigation Point (111 control room) at the start of April 2021, Bradley took a call from a patient who became increasingly angry whilst Bradley was trying to go through the triage questions to assess him. He started to become verbally abusive and was inappropriate, threatening and made upsetting comments to Bradley. The patient said that he was going to punch Bradley’s face and remarked that he ‘hoped that his children would die from COVID-19’. Soon after the comments, the patient put the phone down.
The experience affected Bradley’s mental health and he found comments about his (then) unborn first child upsetting. Despite this, and other examples of verbal abuse Bradley and his colleagues face on a daily basis, it has made him more strong-minded as a person.
Working as a Call Assessor, Bradley knows that his role is vitally important to help others who call 111 or 999. He enjoys his role as no two calls are the same and gets that sense of satisfaction knowing that he’s made a difference, reassuring people and being calm on the phone to get the right help for them.
Bradley said: “I want to help spread the message that we’re here to do a job and when people call us, our main focus is on them or the patient. Whether that call last four minutes or 20 minutes, we want to get the most appropriate help to you. We’re not just a voice on the other end of the phone, we’re human beings doing our best to help you and people do forget that sometimes. When people get angry on calls, it’s sometimes with the questions that we ask or the outcome that we provide to them. I understand that calling 999/111 for help can be distressing, especially if it’s a life-threatening emergency, but we aren’t asking questions for the sake of it, they’re important to gather vital information so we need you to stay calm and listen to what we’re asking you. Similarly, the questions genuinely aren’t delaying help either as we’ll already be arranging the best help for you or the patient behind the scenes. Everyone has their own tolerance levels when it comes to abusive calls and I can handle most things but that call in particular got me.”
Responding to the launch of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executive national campaign #WorkWithoutFear, Tracy Nicholls, CEO of the College of Paramedics said:
“The College of Paramedics wholeheartedly supports the #WorkWithoutFear campaign and firmly believes that every paramedic should be able to go to work and do their job without fear of abuse or violence.
“The fact that every day last year, 32 ambulance staff were abused or attacked is totally appalling and unacceptable. We know from our own engagement with members that nearly three-quarters of paramedics have feared for their own safety or felt threatened at work. Enough is enough, it has to stop.
“Now is the 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.”
You can pledge your support for this campaign by using and sharing #WorkWithoutFear on social media and by visiting www.aace.org.uk/vaa to view films about some of those affected.