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.
Sarah Haddada is 28 years old and is a British Muslim. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and is a Paramedic based at Hollymoor hub. Sarah has worked for WMAS for 10 years this October. She joined in 2012 as a Patient Transport Services Apprentice before completing her technician training and then qualifying as a paramedic in February 2021.
Throughout her service, Sarah has been a victim of physical and verbal abuse on a number of occasions, from a range of different patients and of different severities. Sarah's worst physical abuse was when she sustained a wrist injury and needed time off work to recover. However, she argues that, for her it has been the verbal abuse she has suffered which has been more psychologically damaging.
Whilst on duty, not long after losing her best friend, Sarah and her crewmate were responded to a Category 3 job where a male, with no fixed abode, was lying on the floor being abusive in a bus stop. When Sarah and her crewmate arrived, the patient immediately started being verbally racially abusive to her and her crewmate. This was in front of approximately 30 bystanders, who had gathered round to watch what was unfolding. The man called Sarah a P*** B****** multiple times, for absolutely no reason and continued to shout racist remarks to her crewmate commenting on his ethnicity while they were trying to assess him. He was calling all NHS staff scum, and spat at them multiple times. The patient was also abusive to the attending PCs, who arrested him and took him into custody.
Sarah contacted counselling services, Remedy, after being a victim of hate crime and was also under bereavement counselling due to the recent loss of her best friend.
Sarah knew she always wanted to care for others when she was younger and, before seeing the PTS vacancy, was ready to embark on a midwifery course. However, she had to miss out on the course after suffering a broken jaw following an assault but, once healed, applied as an apprentice with WMAS. She’s never looked back and has a genuine desire to help others. She never knows what her Paramedic role will take her to next and enjoys the variety of her role. Sarah wears a body worn camera when she’s on shift.
Sarah said: “I wanted to be part of the campaign because I’ve been the victim of hate crime whilst on duty and it’s not okay. I pray that people, after seeing this campaign, are nicer to each other, with no exceptions. We are all individuals, and that is what makes the world a beautiful place and the sooner people accept that we’re all different and have different beliefs, the better. I pray that I, and my colleagues, stop being subjected to verbal and physical abuse because all we want to do is help. When we have our green uniform on, we are just human like you. We’re not the enemy.”
Responding to the Association of Ambulance Chief Executive's national campaign, 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.