GMB, the union for NHS workers, is demanding a change in the law as its investigation reveals that reported sexual assaults on ambulance staff have increased by 211 per cent over five years.
Research last week by the union Unison found that attacks on all types of NHS staff had risen sharply last year, and according to the results of a Freedom of Information Act survey undertaken by GMB, there have been at least 688 sexual assaults on ambulance staff since 2012/13.
In 2012/13 there were 53 recorded sexual assaults. By 2016/17, the most recently available full year figures, the total had increased to 165.
On April 27, MPs will vote on the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Chris Bryant MP.
If passed, most types of assaults on emergency service workers will automatically be treated as an aggravating factor for sentencing purpose.
GMB has long campaigned for the Bill to be passed – but as it stands, sexual assaults will not be included in the proposed legislation. The union is demanding a change to the Bill to widen its scope.
Evidence given to GMB by ambulance staff members who have been sexually assaulted in the line of duty includes the following:
“A known regular caller forced me against a wall with the intention of sexually assaulting me.”
“I have been sexually assaulted twice and been punched in the side of my face.”
“I’ve been punched, kicked, slapped, bitten, spat on, threatened with a knife and a gun. Verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence.”
“Sexually assaulted, verbally threatened with assault, fallen on by an aggressive patient whilst in the ambulance.”
“I was the victim of a sustained incident which began with verbal and sexual abuse and harassment, my assailant indecently exposed himself, made lewd derogatory sexual remarks and gestures, grabbed hold of me and twisted my arm, also kicked out at me and again tried to grab hold of me.”
“Struggled to go out and be around friends and family, children upset unable to sleep.”
GMB and Chris Bryant MP have written to the Ministry of Justice Minister, Rory Stewart, to call on him to back an amendment to the Bill on Friday. The union is also campaigning for risk flagging systems to be upgraded so ambulance workers are always aware if they are called out to people with a known history of sexual violence.
Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary, said:
“The fact this is happening to our ambulance workers as they try to save lives is particularly sickening. These figures show there is a national problem with disgusting attacks on emergency workers and it’s getting worse.
The government could confront abusive and unacceptable behaviour with the stroke of a pen. Make no mistake: these are among the most horrific and harrowing cases emergency workers can and do face in the line of duty.
GMB is calling for sexual assaults to be included in this new legislation to help give our ambulance staff the reassurance they need to get on with the job.
These heroes keep us safe every day and the least they can expect is being kept safe at work.”
Martin Flaherty, Managing Director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said;
“Our organisation would always encourage its members to prosecute anyone found guilty of any type of attack against ambulance staff to the fullest extent of the law.
All attacks against staff who are trying to help and care for patients are abhorrent and must be stamped out by whatever means available within the boundaries of the law.”
An NHS England spokesperson said:
“We have a zero-tolerance policy to threats, abuse or violence to any NHS staff, including sex assaults on paramedics. This sort of behaviour from patients or members of the public will never be tolerated and should be reported to the police.”
UNISON lead officer for ambulance staff Alan Lofthouse:
“Ambulance staff are dedicated to serving the public and saving lives. Physical and sexual attacks are on the increase leaving ambulance staff traumatised. This makes already stressful jobs almost unbearable, leading many to leave a job they love.
There must be no hiding place for anyone who intimidates, threatens or abuses staff. The government must do more to prosecute offenders and improve employees’ safety.”