HEALTH Minister Robin Swann said it is “absolutely unacceptable” that four out of five (86%) Ambulance Service paramedics surveyed in Northern Ireland have feared for their safety or felt threatened while carrying out their duties.
The figures were revealed by the College of Paramedics after it conducted a UK-wide poll.
It found that the overall UK figure for paramedics who felt threatened or feared for their safety was 70% — some 16% lower than Northern Ireland’s total.
The survey was completed by 2,345 UK paramedics, including 70 based in Northern Ireland.
It also revealed that almost half (49%) of all respondents had suffered physical abuse, while 80% said they had been verbally abused during the course of their work.
Mr Swann condemned all attacks on health staff, especially those who are on the frontline protecting and responding to calls from the public.
He added that those who carry out physical assaults on Northern Ireland Ambulance Service staff will be “subject to the full rigours of the law”.
“Ambulance staff work incredibly hard, day and night, in very high-pressure situations which can sometimes be hostile and dangerous,” said Mr Swann. “So it’s appalling that people who dedicate themselves to caring for others and saving lives are being subjected to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual assault.
“I have been shocked to hear about the weapons used to attack them and the increase in the terrible, traumatic abuse they have received from a small minority within our community.
“It is absolutely unacceptable and we will not tolerate it. As a society, we have worked together to defeat the virus.”
The College of Paramedics warned that the abuse paramedics are experiencing is having a direct impact on their health and wellbeing after (89%) said their jobs were taking a toll on their mental health and 69% said this had intensified since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chief Executive of the College of Paramedics Tracy Nicholls, welcomed the steps by the Government to help fund body worn cameras and introducing harsher sentences for those found guilty of violence against paramedics — but called on the courts “impose the harshest penalties available”.