EMERGENCY workers in Wales are reminding the public to treat them with respect in the face of a continued rise in assaults.
There were 1,421 assaults in the six-month period between January – June 2022, up from 1,396 in the same period last year, representing a 1.8% increase, new figures have revealed.
Assaults ranged from slapping, scratching, spitting and verbal abuse to punching, biting, kicking and head-butting.
Seven incidents involved a weapon, and more than a quarter of assaults resulted in injury.
Ahead of the Christmas party season, emergency workers are appealing to the public to treat them with respect.
Figures at a glance:
- The monthly average assaults increased from 233 in the 12 months to June 2021, to 241 in the 12 months to June 2022, demonstrating a year-on-year rise of 3.4%.
- Almost half (45.2%) of emergency worker assaults take place in South East Wales, the most prolific local authority areas being Cardiff, Newport and Rhondda Cynon Taf.
- In the 12 months to June 2022, Wrexham demonstrated the highest incident rate for assaults at 1.21 per 1,000 population, followed by Denbighshire at 1.20.
- Both areas have seen notable increases when compared with the 12 months to June 2021, with Wrexham rising from 98 incidents to 164 (up 66) and Denbighshire increasing from 82 incidents to 115 (up 33).
- The top three locations for emergency worker assaults in the January – June 2022 period were Cardiff City Centre, Cardiff Bay Police Station and Swansea Central Police Station.
- Offenders aged 26-35 account for the highest portion of offending (23.6%).
- Friday and Saturday nights present the highest number of emergency worker assaults, accounting for 26.2% of incidents in the first six months of 2022.
- Alcohol intoxication continues to present as the largest impact factor, applying to a quarter of incidents.
- Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been at least 42 incidents where an emergency worker has deliberately been coughed at.
Jason Killens, Chief Executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “The run-up to Christmas means more people are out enjoying the revelry, and with alcohol consumption comes an increase in assaults, both physical and verbal.
“There were 77 verbal attacks alone on our ambulance control room staff in the first six months of the year.
“We know it’s distressing when you’re waiting for help, but abusing our call handlers is not the answer – if anything, it could potentially delay help.
“And on the road, crews might have no choice but to leave a scene if their safety is compromised, and that’s not helpful for anyone, especially the patient.
“Emergency workers are normal human beings just trying to do a job – they’re there to help you, so give them the credit and respect they deserve.”
Among the victims of assault are PC Alisha Pontin and PC Katie White from South Wales Police who earlier this year responded to a report of a disturbance in Port Talbot.
While at the address, the offender James Perry became aggressive and threatened PCs Pontin and White with a knife.
They were left with no option but to taser him.
Perry was later sentenced to 20 months in prison for criminal damage, Section 4 public order, threatening a person with a bladed article in a private place and assaulting an emergency worker.
James Ratti, South Wales Police’s Chief Inspector of Operations in Swansea Neath Port Talbot, said: “The footage from the officers’ body worn cameras shows the dangers that officers can face at any time.
“Police officers go above and beyond in their duties to protect people and under no circumstances should they be assaulted or verbally abused.
“The overwhelming majority of the public support the work of our officers and will understandably be shocked by the footage.
“I am extremely proud of PC Pontin and PC White’s professionalism and bravery in dealing with this incident.”
Assaults on police accounted for 70.8% of the total number in the six-month reporting period.
Jeremy Vaughan, Chief Constable at South Wales Police, said: “I would like you to join me in condemning violence against our emergency service workers.
“Policing is a challenging and sometimes dangerous job.
“My officers come to work to serve and protect our communities every day.
“No-one should come to work with the fear of being assaulted.
“Assaults on police officers continue to be the most prevalent amongst emergency workers; this is completely unacceptable.
“As we enter the Christmas period, all of our emergency service workers will be working tirelessly and missing out on time with their loved ones, so I ask you to please respect and support them as they work to keep Wales safe.”
Although fewer in number – 27 incidents over the six-month period – assaults on fire service colleagues included an incident at a playground where a youth spat at a firefighter.
Roger Thomas, Chief Fire Officer at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: “It is disgraceful that people attack emergency service workers whilst they are working hard to protect communities and save lives and properties.
“Attacks of this nature may result in physical injury, damage to life-saving vehicles and equipment and also impacts negatively on the mental health of our staff.
“Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service takes a zero-tolerance approach to physical threats and attacks towards our staff and we are working with the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
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 and NHS workers.
Judith Paget, Chief Executive of NHS Wales, said: “Our emergency workers provide life-saving and life-changing care every day in often difficult circumstances.
“The Christmas period is always a challenging time for your NHS staff, who are already facing unprecedented demand, so now more than ever, they deserve to be treated with respect.
“Any form of attack on our emergency workers is completely unacceptable and we are doing everything we can to work with NHS Wales employers and our partner agencies to eradicate physical or verbal assaults on staff.”
The With Us, Not Against Us campaign was launched in May 2021 by the Joint Emergency Service Group in Wales to try and reduce the number of assaults on emergency workers.
Pledge your support on social media using the hashtag #WithUsNotAgainstUs or #GydaNiNidYnEinHerbyn.
Click here for body worn video footage of the incident involving South Wales Police PC Alisha Pontin and PC Katie White.
For more information, please email the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Head of Communications Lois.Hough@wales.nhs.uk.