Assaults on emergency workers in Wales are increasing, according to data released as part of a publicity campaign to highlight the issue.
More than 4,240 assaults were committed against emergency workers, including police, fire and ambulance crews, in the period April 2019 – November 2020, representing a monthly average increase from 202 in 2019 to 222 in 2020, or 10%.
Assaults ranged from kicking, punching and head-butting, to spitting, slapping, biting and verbal abuse.
More than half (58%) of incidents took place in South East Wales, and over a third (37%) were committed by people under the influence of alcohol.
There were 629 (15%) assaults on Welsh Ambulance Service staff over the 20-month period, from paramedics to control room staff.
Jason Killens, Chief Executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “Our ambulance crews are there to help people, but they can’t fight for someone’s life if they’re fighting for theirs.
“Our crews might have no choice but to leave a scene if their personal safety is compromised, and this isn’t helpful for anyone, least of all the patient.”
Two thirds of the assaults (66%) over the 20-month period were committed against police officers, a third (33%) of which resulted in injury.
Pam Kelly, Chief Constable at Gwent Police, said: “Emergency services across Wales are committed to doing all that we can to serve the public.
“We can only effectively do our jobs if people work with us and not against us.
“With assaults on emergency workers continuing to rise, we are insisting and appealing for this type of behaviour to stop.
“Too often I see the devastating impact these assaults have on police officers and other emergency workers as they go about their duty to help those in need.
“It is important to remember that beneath any uniform is a person who has friends, family members and loved ones.
“An assault on any emergency worker is a crime, be that physical or verbal, and will not be tolerated.”
Although fewer in number – 74 incidents over the 20-month period – data shows that assaults on fire and rescue service staff peak in November.
Simon Smith, Chief Fire Officer at North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We too are adding our voice to this appeal for the public to work with us, not against us.
“The vast majority of people recognise the importance of supporting the fire and rescue service while they respond to a range of emergencies that put people, communities, livelihoods and the environment at risk.”
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Easing of restrictions saw an increase in attacks
As the first round of Covid-19 restrictions eased in Wales, July 2020 (256 assaults) and August 2020 (253 assaults) saw the highest volume of emergency worker assaults, increasing 20% above the monthly average of 212.
There were just 21 known incidents over the reporting period where an emergency worker was deliberately coughed at by a person who claimed to have Covid-19, but the real figure is thought to be significantly higher.
Under the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, the definition of an emergency worker includes police, fire and ambulance staff, as well as prison staff, search and rescue workers and NHS workers.
In 2018, the maximum sentence under the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act was doubled from six months to 12 months in prison, but criminals could soon face up to two years in prison under new laws.
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