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TUV’s Allister links drink laws to attacks on emergency staff


CONCERNS: TUV leader Jim Allister

CONCERNS: TUV leader Jim Allister

CONCERNS: TUV leader Jim Allister

New figures show attacks on ambulance workers have almost doubled in one Northern Ireland health trust area over the last five years.

And a leadling MLA says he fears the relaxation of licensing laws could lead to a further rise in assaults and abuse directed at NHS emergency staff.

The attacks - many more of which go unrecorded - include actual physical assaults as well as threats and verbal abuse.

Now a new strategy has just been put into place to help convince long-suffering ambulance staff that reporting the assaults is worthwhile.

In a year-long period between 2015/16 there were 74 assaults on ambulance services staff in the South Eastern Trust area which soared up to 140 in the 2020/21 year.

But there were sharp increases in other Health and Social Care Trust areas also - from 54 to 71 in the Western Area, 53 to 68 in the South and 74 to 98 in the Northern Trust.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is the only area to see a slight decrease - from 186 five years ago to 175 in the last year.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Trust said it has just agreed a Violence Prevention and Reduction Strategy which will also help victims of assaults deal with the criminal justice system.

The latest figures were given to Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister who warned research has shown longer opening hours lead to increased attacks.

"The significant increase in assaults on ambulance staff is deeply concerning," he said. "While the last year and a half has seen much deserved praise for our NHS staff who bore the brunt of the pandemic, these figures shown that all too often it is not applause that ambulance staff are on the receiving end of.

"It is all well and good for politicians to condemn an alarming rise in such incidents but it is important that policy matches the rhetoric. In that regard, the recent decision to permit longer opening hours for licenced premises every weekend is hard to square with the professed concern for emergency staff."

The North Antrim MLA said research in Norway had shown for every extra one-hour extension to opening times, there is a 16pc increase in police reported assaults at night time, and if opening hours are reduced "you get an exactly converse 16pc reduction in those assaults.

"We will not see this worrying trend reverse when the law is changed in a fashion which, the evidence shows, will result in more attacks," he added.

Health Minister Robin Swann said the new strategy aims to identify and respond to the incidents better "so that staff feel that reporting is worthwhile."

It is also designed to raise public awareness, ensure effective communication within the Trusts and ensure all staff have "fit for purpose" training.

A few of the recent incidents involved people spitting at ambulance staff, threatening to pass on the Covid-19 virus and urinating on ambulance equipment.

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