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Jail all thugs who attack paramedics: Ambulance Service

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 05/03/2016

Heather Sharpe
Heather Sharpe

There have been more than 300 attacks on paramedics in the past 12 months, leading to further demands from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) for tougher sentences for people guilty of violence.

It comes after a paramedic with 20 years' experience was left needing hospital treatment when they were bitten by a patient.

The incident on Thursday in Ballycastle was one of hundreds to have occurred across the province in the past year.

Paramedics on duty have been punched, pushed and verbally abused when attempting to treat people.

John McPoland from NIAS has now said there is a need for custodial sentences for those who assault staff.

"In condemning these incidents we try to explain the impacts, physical and emotional, of this type of trauma on our staff," Mr McPoland said.

"We have no hesitation in, once again, calling for this individual to face the full rigour of the law."

He added that attacks also affected the public.

"When the member of staff was unable to continue with the rest of his shift, Ballycastle was left without cover in the town, relying on the neighbouring stations of Ballymoney and Coleraine to be available to respond to calls from the town," he pointed out.

"We recognise that we have the support of the vast majority of the public in attempting to consign these attacks to history, but, if people refuse to listen, we would like to see custodial sentences as a deterrent."

In 2012 Carrickfergus-based paramedic Heather Sharpe thought she was going to be killed during a terrifying encounter with an 18-stone thug while answering a 999 call.

She was on her own when she responded to the emergency call at a house in Newtownabbey.

The attack left her frightened, vulnerable and unable to work - but the man never faced punishment.

During the incident her clothes were ripped from her by the violent patient, who threatened to throw her down the stairs.

Speaking previously about her experience, Heather recalled walking up to one of the bedrooms where she was met by what she described as "a burly, six-foot male".

"He was shouting at me, he was gesturing towards me," she explained.

He then ripped at her uniform and grabbed her, but she tried to escape.

"He got me by the scruff of my shirt and tried to throw me down the stairs," she added. "He had already ripped and torn my trousers. He was in a relatively undressed state and I really feared for my safety. I feared for my life and I thought he was going to kill me."

Heather managed to escape but was adamant that people who are responsible for such attacks against emergency medical staff should be jailed.

"Anybody who assaults any paramedic in the line of duty should be dealt with severely by the courts and I think it needs to be a custodial sentence," she said.

In another incident last November a 48-year-old man was given a three-month suspended sentence after attacking a paramedic on an emergency callout.

At one stage the paramedic and a female colleague had to take refuge in their ambulance and seek police help. While trying to treat the man he shoved the paramedic, pressed his face against his and then punched him in the chest.

And last July a paramedic sustained a hand injury after he was assaulted by a patient at the scene of a traffic accident.

The incident happened after a two-car crash on Antrim's Dublin Road.

One person needed treatment before he became aggressive and punched and kicked the paramedic helping him.

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