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article imageProtecting the Frontline: Why UK Ambulance Drivers Are at Risk of Being Attacked

By Michelle Duffy     Nov 12, 2007 in World
We live in an increasingly dangerous world, so perhaps it's not surprising now that UK union bosses have demanded that it's about time that British Paramedics should be issued with stab proof vests
It's far from a stab in the dark, yet union leaders are pushing for ambulance crews to be just as protected but stab proof vests as those in the police force. It is now, thankfully, come to a head when authorities are having to sit up and take note of those who are dealing with just as many, if not more so, dangerous people than their distant armed cousins, the police force.
In response to the plea, health minister Mr Ben Bradshaw has told unions that there is no reason why ambulance crews should not be issued with stab proof vests if the trust in which they work sees it necessary to do so.
However, the downside is the cost - no one is prepared to cough up for the bill. So far, the Department of Health has stated that they have received no requests what so ever for the money needed to pay for the body armour.
A plea, one would think is a new issue, yet this is not a recent thing by any means. Unions have been fighting for over ten years now for ambulance crews in certain areas of the UK to be issued with the vests they have so long needed, speaking as an ex service driver myself, it is a much needed piece of kit which, on several occasions myself, I would have eargerly wished for.
In the role of the ambulance personnel, the job shifts much between dealing with the worst people and the worst in people. We moved from drunks to mental health patients much of the time when we are not attending to accidents of a pure incidental nature. Many an ambulance worker has come face to face with another human being who has not been not sure of what day it is, let alone the very nature of the business of our presence.
This has all come to light since the rate of violence against service personnel especially those in the ambulance service have risen dramatically in recent times. According to APAP's Jonathan Fox, ambulance crews come under fire when responding to all sorts of innocent calls.
So far, only three services in the UK have vests as standard issue, these are London,. Essex and Dorset, yet unions bosses want them to be more widely used.
Mr Fox, who is a not only a spokesperson for the APAP but a paramedic too, spoke of his concerns for the welfare of his colleagues out on the road, he said,
"Although the majority of public we serve are fine, there is a disproportionate minority of people that we attend who can turn violent and it's this risk we are trying to address by reviewing this initiative."
There have been 1,006 physical assaults reported by ambulance staff over the last year in England alone.
Secretary for the North West division, Matt Whitticombe, told the BBC News Website,
"While many of our highly-trained and dedicated staff at the cutting edge of the NHS face the threat of physical assault on a regular basis without this protection, our desk-bound administrators continue to prevaricate over the merits of body armour and so the dangers persist. Body armour is part of a package of safe systems, conflict-resolution strategies and personal protective equipment necessary to ensure a safer working environment for those who dedicate their working lives to the care of others."
His turn on the subject made for quite an interesting thought. He said he believed that to issue the stab vests as standard to all countries would mean that paramedic would then take unnecessary risks when dealing with awkward or violent members of the public including drug users.
He continued,
"That is unsubstantiated by the research that's been done in police officers, which shows they do not take more risks and assaults against them go down."
Yet the Department of Health have most certainly the last word on the subject of whether we should make the safety of our crews a national priority. As spokesperson recently said,
"The government takes the safety of ambulance staff extremely seriously. Ambulance crews across the country can have stab vests if it is decided they are necessary by their local NHS trust. Any violence against NHS staff is unacceptable. That is why we have announced an extra £97m for security and measures that will make the NHS a safer place to work, including mobile alarms connected to control rooms."
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