Emergency service workers need greater protection

No one should face violence, abuse and sexual harassment at work

Ambulance workers and A&E staff from across the UK are heading to Westminster to lobby MPs today (Wednesday), urging them to support Chris Bryant’s private members’ bill, which would see tougher sentences for members of the public who attack emergency service staff.

Last year there were 70,000 assaults on NHS workers in England and Wales*, and 51% of ambulance staff say they have been exposed to sexual harassment whilst on duty.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill will make it an aggravated offence to assault emergency service workers. It will increase the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year if staff are attacked whilst on duty.

Frontline staff who belong to UNISON – and who are attending today’s lobby –have told of the “devastating” mental and physical toll that working in volatile environments can have.

Richard, a 34 year-old paramedic from Yorkshire, has been bitten multiple times, threatened with a knife and witnessed colleagues being attacked because their ambulance was blocking the road when they were attending a cardiac arrest.

Paramedic Laura, 47, from London will tell her MP how she feared for her life while on duty. She had her ambulance windows smashed by a man she tried to help, had clumps of hair pulled out by drunk passengers, and been groped whilst attending 999 call outs.

As well as tougher sentences, the Bill would also force anyone who bites, spits at or attacks an emergency service worker to undergo blood and/or saliva tests. This would help end the agonising wait for frontline staff, who currently have to go months before discovering if they have contracted a disease like HIV or hepatitis because their attacker is refusing to give a blood test.

UNISON national ambulance officer Alan Lofthouse said: “Emergency service workers uphold the fabric of our society – whether they’re saving lives, protecting communities or fighting fires. They’re the people we rely on at our time of utmost need.

“No one should face violence, abuse and sexual harassment at work, but emergency workers tell us that such incidents are on the rise.

“It’s only right that the full force of the law is used against anyone who attacks those trying to save lives and protect the public. This bill will help the courts to bring offenders to justice.”

Both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are supporting Chris Bryant’s bill, which has its Second Reading on Friday.

Notes to editors:
– To speak to case studies please call UNISON press office.
– *NHS Protect’s annual figures for 2015/16 show that there were 70,555 reported physical assaults on NHS staff.

Media contacts:
Siobhan Cooley T: 020 121 5555 M: 07903 870786 E: s.cooley@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk