This morning (Thursday), the Assault on Emergency Service Bill received Royal Assent and so from today, anyone who assaults emergency crews could face a doubled prison sentence.
The maximum prison sentence for a common assault has now increased from six months to one year, if the victim is a member of the emergency services. In addition, sexual assaults will also be added to the law as aggravating features of attacks.
East Midlands Ambulance Service, which responds to incidents in Lincolnshire, say they welcome this change in law, especially as since April this year, their dedicated frontline staff across the region have reported 476 assaults (389 incidents) – compared with 439 (340 incidents) in the same period in 2017, including five incidents involving spitting, five involving knives, two involving firearms and three involving racial abuse.
In Lincolnshire alone during 2017/2018 they reported 117 assaults (17 physical assaults resulting in injury; 64 involving alcohol).
Mark Ward, Security Management Specialist for EMAS, said: “We welcome this development and I hope the increase in sentencing will act as a greater deterrent to anyone who thinks of lashing out at our crews.
“Assaults on our staff are absolutely unacceptable and we take a zero tolerance approach towards anyone who verbally, physically or sexually assaults them.
“Our frontline colleagues, the team in our 999 control room and our volunteers spend their days helping the public. They deserve to be treated with respect and we will continue to work with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute those who abuse our them.”
Assaults can have a huge impact on ambulance crews, according to the service, including injuries from the incident, and stress, emotional and psychological issues in the longer term which can affect home life. On occasions when assaults have involved spitting where spit has gone into a staff member’s eye or mouth, the ambulance crew have to attend A&E for blood tests and may need to take a course of antibiotics.
Assaults can impact on the level of service that can be provided too. After an incident they take staff off duty so that their injuries can be treated, they receive the support they need, and can make a statement to the police. This means the number of ambulances available to respond to emergencies in the East Midlands reduces.
Ultimately, an assault experienced by a crew while trying to help someone can lead to a decline in confidence, a skilled professional leaving the ambulance service, and a reduction in the quality of service provided for our communities, says the service.
In 2017/2018 EMAS staff reported 969 assaults including physical, verbal, sexual and racial abuse. There were 775 individual incidents, and 194 incidents where more than one type of assault took place – physical and verbal.
This included 101 physical assaults where the frontline crew member was injured, and 12 incidents of sexual assault.
Of the 969 assaults, there were 320 where alcohol was involved.
Of all the assaults in 2017/18, only 13 offenders received custodial sentences, and four received suspended sentences.
Since April there have been 51 physical assaults where staff were injured.