THE Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) has recorded 192 incidents of assault against its staff members in its Western Trust division, from the beginning of 2013/14 to the end of 2017/18.

Almost double the number of the assaults recorded in 2013/14 were carried out in 2017/18 while, on average over this five-year period, these incidents occurred once every nine and a half days.

Over 40 per cent of these incidents took place in the eight hours between 9pm and 5am while 93 per cent of them were carried out against paramedics.

These assaults included:

• A woman threatening suicide who conducted an assault with a knife.

• Five incidents in which both men and women carried out sexual assaults.

• 19 assaults involving punches.

• Nine assaults which involved bites.

• Over 40 times when people were spat at.

• Almost 100 records of verbal abuse/disruption.

• An incident when a person feared for their life after being knocked out, only to regain consciousness to find a woman on top of them with her hands around their neck.

Interim Director of Operations at NIAS, Robert Sowney, said: “These attacks occur too frequently. I am concerned at the personal impact they may have on staff.

“Our frontline staff may receive physical injury which is totally unacceptable to them, us and society in general.

“I have no hesitation in calling for appropriate action to be taken, through the judicial system, against those who are responsible for these assaults.

“These attacks can have a lasting emotional and psychological impact on our staff when physical wounds may have healed much quicker. Our staff deserve better.”

Mr Sowney added that these incidents often leave staff unable to work which can create longer ambulance response times, having “potentially fatal consequences for those who may have need of our service”.

He concluded: “Our message is quite simply that these attacks must stop and that those who continue to assault our staff must become accountable to the full rigour of the law.” NIAS confirmed that in recent times it has introduced various protective measures to its vehicles, designed to increase staff safety.

These include reinforced windscreens, on-board cameras and emergency alarms. Further training has also been provided to help staff deal with violent situations.

Across the whole of Northern Ireland in this five-year period, NIAS recorded 1,829 assaults against its staff, 10.5 per cent of which took place in its Western Trust division.

The Impartial Reporter accessed this data by making a Freedom of Information request to NIAS.

This article follows coverage from two weeks ago’s in The Impartial Reporter which showed 791 assaults were carried out against Western Trust hospital staff in 2018 alone.