Editor's Viewpoint: Ambulance crews attacks a disgrace
Once again the grim statistics of attacks on ambulance crews in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the United Kingdom are making headlines.
According to a report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, ambulance crews were attacked in the UK 452 times - nearly nine times every week - in the 2018-19 financial year.
Ambulance staff in the north west of England were assaulted 363 times, in the West Midlands over 1,000 times and in London nearly 700 times.
In England and Scotland, and here, a member of an ambulance crew was assaulted every 90 minutes, amounting to nearly 6,000 recorded cases.
The attacks were verbal and physical, involving biting, kicking and punching. There were 36 attacks on ambulance staff in Northern Ireland in January this year alone.
In December last, north Down was left with a significantly reduced service on a Saturday night after two of three crews on duty were attacked and unable to continue. This was for a second weekend in a row.
During the Eleventh Night this year, four crews were attacked while attending calls, during a period when staff handled nearly 450 emergency calls. This was more than 21% higher than the same night the previous year.
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It is almost beyond explanation as to why people choose to attack ambulance crews. Such stupidity is almost impossible to fathom on any rational basis but the harsh reality is that it does exist not just here but in so many other parts of the UK.
Sara Gordon, head of health at public services union Unison, echoes the view of the vast majority of people when she says it is "horrific that ambulance workers face increasing abuse and violence".
These figures tell only one part of each story. Behind the statistics is a human story of fear, pain and ongoing trauma. It is indeed a grim irony that these attacks are made on people who are already trying to help others in trouble. It is bad enough to endure the anxious wait for an ambulance without that being compounded by violence and uncertainty.
The ambulance service carries out invaluable work under great strain and this itself is increased by factors such as the unavailability and shortage of staff.
The greatest possible support must be given to ambulance staff who are victims of such assaults, and the courts must impose the strong sentences possible - including jail - for those convicted.