Hundreds of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) staff have experienced violence and aggression while working during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ambulance crews and control room staff reported 290 incidents during the first 10 weeks of lockdown from 23 March to 31 May. This figure compared with 199 during the same time period in 2019.
The majority (84%) of the cases during lockdown were verbal abuse from patients, relatives and members of the public.
There were also 46 physical assaults against SWASFT staff, up from 34 last year.
The areas with the highest number of assaults on staff were: South and West Devon (12); Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (9) and Wiltshire (8).
Emergency services and other partner agencies across the region are working together to highlight the #Unacceptable abuse and assaults faced by key workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
They warn that such behaviour will not be tolerated, and action will be taken to prosecute offenders and protect staff.
Jenny Winslade, SWASFT Executive Director of Quality and Clinical Care, said: “Our ambulance crews and control room staff are working tirelessly on the frontline during this global health crisis.
“Sadly they are facing violence and aggression every day while trying to protect and save our patients’ lives, which is completely unacceptable.
“We support whatever action is necessary to protect our staff from harm, and ensure those responsible for any attacks are prosecuted.”
Several SWASFT staff have shared their stories of being assaulted while on duty in a bid to raise awareness of the problem, and to remind people of the consequences.
Emergency Care Assistant Mark Walker and a police officer were spat at by a patient he was trying to treat in Dawlish, South Devon on Monday 25 May.
The offender was sentenced to 22 weeks in prison for assaulting two emergency workers and being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
Mark said: “The incident was pretty unpleasant. But for the person to be arrested, charged and sent to prison barely within 24 hours was a good outcome.”
Weymouth-based Paramedic James Ryan was attacked by a patient in the back of an ambulance while transporting them to hospital.
James said: “It was a horrible experience. The man knocked my glasses off, pinned me down and punched me. This type of violent behaviour is unacceptable.”
Keziah Pietersen has experienced physical and verbal abuse while working as a paramedic, including being kicked down a flight of stairs.
She said: “I was bruised and shaken. For a long time after whenever I was called out to a similar type of job I was wary.”
SWASFT is encouraging people to support the #Unacceptable campaign by sharing supportive #Unacceptable messages on social media.
Jenny added: “Our staff demonstrate dedication and courage every day, putting their own health at risk for the sake of patients. We are so proud and thankful for them all.
“Any incident of violence and aggression can have serious consequences on them, their families and colleagues. Please respect our people as they continue working during this difficult time.”
SWASFT is also reminding people to follow the national healthcare guidelines to wash their hands regularly, keep two metres apart in public, and get tested if they develop coronavirus symptoms.