Not a week seems to pass without news of an assault on our emergency services staff.
A quick browse down your Twitter timeline and you may find that yet another paramedic has been abused by a foul-mouthed resident for parking outside their home. Pick up the national newspaper and you may see that a police officer has been beaten unconscious by an intoxicated yob. Turn on the news and you may see dashboard footage of a fire engine being pelted with stones on the way to an emergency call.
Not every case may be reported, but it’s a worrying fact that across the country there are hundreds of these assaults taking place EVERY DAY. Official figures show that there were 70,555 assaults on NHS staff alone in 2015-16 - up four per cent from the 67,864 recorded in 2014/15 and a rise of almost 25% from the 56,718 attacks recorded in 2009/10. Ambulance crews and nurses working in accident and emergency wards are among those targeted, with London Ambulance Service recently revealing at least one of its paramedics is physically attacked every day, just in the capital.
To every right-minded person, the thought of frontline workers who dedicate their lives to helping others being at-tacked whilst doing their job is sickening. However, it is happening up and down the country with worrying regularity.
Just days ago, 26-year-old Kirsty Sharman was thrust into the public consciousness when she was unveiled as the author behind an abusive note left to West Midlands Ambulance Service paramedics - which was posted on Twitter and went viral instantly. The vile handwritten letter, left on the ambulance as paramedics tended to one of Sharman’s neigh-bours, read: “You have no right to be parked here. I couldn’t give a s**t if the whole street collapsed. Now move your van” whilst Sharman was accused by neighbours in Staffordshire of shouting and swearing at the ambulance crew in the street.
Having been charged with a public order offence, Sharman was forced to face up to her abusive actions at North Staffordshire Justice Centre where she was fined £120 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge and costs of £135.
Her case may have hit the national headlines thanks to the power of Twitter but her case is sadly no longer deemed out of the ordinary. Last November, a motorist penned a heartless note to paramedics saying: "You may be saving lives but don't park your van in a stupid place and block my drive” and then days later a yob was filmed swearing at paramedics for blocking the road while attending to a patient. Earlier this month, thug Paulius Zacharovasu was jailed for attacking paramedic Amanda Beames with her own pen and threatening to kill her as she restrained him in her ambulance in Bury.
Of course paramedics are not the only targets of such sickening abuse. Last month a firefighter required hospital treatment after he and his crew were attacked as they attended a scene of a fire in Glasgow, whilst a police officer was knocked unconscious by a group of thugs in a Kent graveyard early in February, and body cam footage was recently released capturing the screams of a female police officer as she was vi-ciously assaulted and had chunks of her hair pulled out by a man she was trying to arrest in Bilston.
This is just a tiny insight into the worrying national picture as the list goes on and on. Every day, emergency services workers putting their lives on the line are being verbally and physically attacked and abused by the very people they dedicate their lives to helping. It is therefore pleasing to see that politicians are now standing up and taking notice, with plans to introduce tougher sentences for thugs who attack emergency workers ploughing forward after winning cross-party support and public backing.
Under existing laws, those who attack emergency workers are typically charged with common assault, which carries a maximum six-month jail sentence. But the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill would double the maximum sentence for those who assault police, firefighters and NHS staff while on duty. The legislation, put forward by former Labour minister Chris Bryant, will also require judges to consider the fact a victim is an emergency worker as an aggra-vating factor in more serious assaults – putting it on a par with hate crimes. Police officers, custody officers, fire and rescue service workers or volunteers, search and rescue service workers or volunteers and anyone engaged in provid-ing NHS health services are among those covered. The law would also make it a requirement for thugs who spit at emergency workers to take a DNA test in case they have HIV.
Mr Bryant said:
There has been an enormous rise in the number of incidents and all too often magistrates seem to think it is just part of people's jobs to accept they might get punched if they work in the emergency services. That is not acceptable, and we need to change it. This new law will make it clear that the public want a zero tolerance approach.
It is good to see party politics being put aside for an issue of such all-encompassing national importance, with the bill already having had its introduction and crucial second reading in the House of Commons, as well as being considered at committee stage. It has therefore already cleared a number of hurdles on its path to becoming law and will now come back before MPs in April, before being considered by peers in the House of Lords.
It is vital that our beloved emergency services personnel who dedicate their working lives to helping others are able to carry out their duties without fear of abuse or violence. Thugs who think it’s acceptable to attack our heroes on the frontline deserve to feel the full force of the law.