Nearly 40% of ambulance staff have suffered post-traumatic stress during service – more than five times as high as soldiers returning from active duty - new figures have revealed.
The 999 workers suffered PTSD as a result of sexual and physical assaults and other traumatic experiences while helping the public, according to a survey conducted by the GMB union and shared with HuffPost UK.
The study came as the Commons heard the latest stages of a private members’ bill by Labour MP Chris Bryant to impose tougher sentences on those who abuse emergency services workers such as police, nurses, firefighters and ambulance crews.
The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, which has Government backing, was amended on Friday to include sexual assaults on ‘blue light’ staff.
Justice Minister Rory Stewart accepted the amendment after figures showed up to a half of the 999 workers had suffered sexual assault.
Dubbed the ‘Protect The Protectors Law’, the bill follows a rising number of incidents where NHS, firefighters and police staff have been abused, attacked or spat at in the line of duty.
The legislation will for the first time deem assaults on emergency staff as “aggravated”, and subject to heavier sentences. It will also force suspects to provide samples of saliva or blood to ensure rapid testing of HIV and other illnesses.
The GMB survey of 508 ambulance staff, conducted between late March and early April 2018, found that 39% had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder during their service.
Academic research by King’s College, London, has identified that up to 7% of soldiers are likely to develop PTSD depending on their level of combat exposure.
Violence is not the only cause of PTSD in ambulance workers, and a number of staff reported that witnessing road traffic collisions, crime scenes, and the deaths of child patients were other contributing factors.
In 2016/17, 12 per cent of ambulance workers in England had to take sick leave due to depression, anxiety, stress and related conditions, totalling 81,669 days of sick leave.
But a number of GMB members revealed that their PTSD had directly followed assaults on them including knife attacks, broken wrists and fingers, punches and slapping.
One anonymous ambulance worker said: “I was assaulted by a crowd of people whilst attempting to help their drunken relative. I now suffer form PTSD and require mental health counselling.”
Another paramedic told the survey: “My service … treats PTSD as part of the job and its staff as disposable.”
According to the results of a separate Freedom of Information Act survey undertaken by GMB, there have been at least 688 sexual assaults on ambulance staff since 2012/13.
Individual ambulance staff tell of their experiences:
“I’ve been punched, kicked, slapped, bitten, spat on, threatened with a knife and a gun. Verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence. Threats to kill me and my family. Threats to rape my children.”
“Sexually assaulted, verbally threatened with assault, fallen on by an aggressive patient whilst in the ambulance.”
“A known regular caller forced me against a wall with the intention of sexually assaulting me.”
“I have been sexually assaulted twice and been punched in the side of my face.”
“I was the victim of a sustained incident which began with verbal and sexual abuse and harassment, my assailant indecently exposed himself, made lewd derogatory sexual remarks and gestures, grabbed hold of me and twisted my arm, also kicked out at me and again tried to grab hold of me.”
“I am frightened every time I work alone on a vehicle and respond to a lone male patient. I dread the days I am rota’d to work alone.
“Struggled to go out and be around friends and family, children upset unable to sleep.”
Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary, said: “The fact this is happening to our ambulance workers as they try to save lives is particularly sickening.
“These figures show there is a national problem with disgusting attacks on emergency workers and it’s getting worse.
“The government could confront abusive and unacceptable behaviour with the stroke of a pen.”
Chris Bryant MP said: “In the age of #metoo and #timesup it’s unthinkable that we wouldn’t do everything we can to protect nurses, police, paramedics and others from sexual assault,
“I’m delighted that the government have joined me and MPs from all parties to ensure our brave emergency workers have all the protections we can offer them as they serve communities across the UK.
“Week after week emergency workers and particularly our paramedics and ambulance workers are subject to sickening sexual assaults by people who think they are a soft target.”
Justice Minister Rory Stewart said in the Commons: “It should be entirely clear that it is completely unacceptable to attack a police officer, fire service officer, ambulance worker, prison officer, or indeed any emergency worker as defined in the course of this bill, and that sexual assault should be included within this bill as one of the things for which an assault on an emergency worker should be considered an aggravated offence”