EMERGENCY workers in Wales are reminding the public to treat them with respect in the face of a continued rise in assaults.
The monthly average of emergency worker assaults has increased from 203 in 2019, to 226 in 2020, to 237 in 2021, representing a year-on-year increase of 4.9 per cent.
More than 1,440 assaults were committed in the six-month period 01 July 2021 to 31 December 2021, new figures have revealed.
The top five most common types of assault were kicking, spitting, verbal abuse, punching and shoving.
Among the victims is Joanna Paskell, a paramedic in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, who was assaulted last May by a patient at Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales.
Joanna, an ambulance worker of 25 years, was subsequently left with panic attacks.
The mother-of-four recalls: “It was while we were trying to move the patient from the trolley to a bed that she lashed out and punched me straight in the chest.
“I was stunned as it was completely out of the blue, and there had been no indication that she was going to get aggressive.
“Although shaken, I thought nothing of it at the time, just taking painkillers for the pain.
“It was only as I was getting ready for my next shift that realisation dawned, and I actually had a panic attack.
“I subsequently had to take time off work.
“It took a lot for me to come back, and even now, I’m very cautious around patients.”
Meanwhile, Andy Davies, a paramedic in Llangefni, Anglesey, was left with a dislocated shoulder when he was assaulted by a patient last June.
Andy recalls: “The patient was becoming verbally aggressive to the point where we actually called for police back-up.
“As I tried to assess him, he threw me to the floor, partially dislocating my left shoulder.
“I had to have six weeks of physiotherapy afterwards to help me recover from the injury.
“I’m ex-military police so I’m quite good at compartmentalising these things, but it doesn’t mean to say we should accept it.”
Ahead of the extended Bank Holiday weekend, when assaults will typically spike, emergency workers are appealing to the public to treat them with respect.
Jason Killens, Chief Executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “The last couple of years have been a fraught time for all of us, but that’s no excuse to assault an emergency worker, who are people, just like you and I.
“With a Bank Holiday weekend comes lots of people enjoying the revelry, and with alcohol consumption usually comes an increase in assaults.
“There were 80 verbal attacks alone on our ambulance control room staff in the second half of last year.
“We know it’s distressing when you’re waiting for help, but abusing our call handlers is not the answer – if anything, it could potentially delay help.
“On the road meanwhile, crews might have no choice but to leave a scene if their safety is compromised, and that’s not helpful for anyone, especially the patient.
“The debt of gratitude we owe to our emergency workers has never been greater, so please treat them with respect.”
In the six-month reporting period, almost half of emergency worker assaults took place in South East Wales; Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend were the most prolific local authority areas.
For 2021 as a whole, Denbighshire in North Wales had the highest rate of emergency worker assaults at 1.24 per 1,000 population.
Offenders aged 26-35 account for the highest portion of offending (21.9 per cent), and alcohol intoxication continues to apply to a third of incidents.
Twenty three incidents involved the use or threat of use of a weapon, eight of which caused injury to the victim.
Assaults on police account for more than two thirds of the total number; there were an average 165 victims each month in 2021, up from 152 in 2020.
Pam Kelly, Chief Constable at Gwent Police, said: “Every day, our officers are working to protect and serve local residents and businesses.
“Being a victim of hate crime or being assaulted on duty is not acceptable for members of our own community as they go about their job.
“We already ask a lot of our officers and staff in the course of their working day as they often deal with situations most of us hope never to encounter.
“Working where the threat of verbal or physical assault is an increasing possibility makes the role even more challenging.
“We work hard to support any officer who has faced this situation and we will take firm action against those individuals who cause them harm.”
Carl Foulkes, Chief Constable at North Wales Police, added: “Every single day our officers, staff and volunteers are often dealing with very difficult and challenging situations, putting themselves in harm’s way to uphold the law and protect the public.
“They must be able to carry out their duties as safely as possible.
“Being assaulted is not and should never be regarded as ‘part of the job’.
“Assault is a traumatic offence that causes great distress to anyone, and it is no different when the victim is an emergency worker.
“It is wholly unacceptable for them to be threatened, attacked, verbally abused or spat at – and those responsible should face the full force of the law.
“Assaults stay with the victims for the rest of their careers, and none of my officers and staff should have to go to work serving the public and be afraid of being assaulted.
“With the busy summer season almost upon us, please respect and protect our emergency workers.”
May 2021 saw the highest volume of emergency worker assaults with 294, rising as Covid-19 restrictions were eased across Wales.
More than 100 instances are known to be Covid-19-related, for example, where an assault occurred during police attendance for a breach of regulations.
Under the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, the definition of an emergency worker includes police, fire and ambulance staff, as well as prison staff and NHS workers.
Judith Paget, Chief Executive of NHS Wales, said: “Emergency workers provide life-saving and life-changing care every day in often difficult circumstances and deserve to be treated with respect.
“Any form of attack on emergency workers is completely unacceptable and can have a significant impact on someone’s mental health and wellbeing.
“During the pandemic emergency workers worked tirelessly on the frontline to keep Wales safe and now they deserve to feel safe and appreciated for the great work they do.
“We must all work together to reduce their risk of being exposed to violence.”
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of the With Us, Not Against Us campaign, created by the Joint Emergency Service Group in Wales to try and reduce the number of assaults on emergency workers.
You can pledge your support on social media using the hashtag #WithUsNotAgainstUs or #GydaNiNidYnEinHerbyn.