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Australia Paramedics speak out against assault rate as staff told to delay treatment in the face of violence

04:31  18 january  2020
04:31  18 january  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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In the past two weeks, six paramedics have been assaulted whilst caring for the ill and injured. Sydney based paramedic Nathan Williams spoke Commissioner Willis is very concerned about the recent rise of alcohol fuelled violence towards his staff . Mr Willis admits that some of the violence is

Violence against health workers is unacceptable. It has not only a negative impact on the psychological and physical well-being of WHO, ILO, ICN and PSI jointly developed Framework guidelines for addressing workplace violence in the health sector to support the development of

a man sitting on a bed: St John Ambulance NT station officer Warren Purse treats a patient en route to Royal Darwin Hospital. (ABC News: James Purtill)© Provided by ABC NEWS St John Ambulance NT station officer Warren Purse treats a patient en route to Royal Darwin Hospital. (ABC News: James Purtill)

Assaults on paramedics have become so common in the Northern Territory that incidents are often going unreported and urgent patient care is being delayed due to severe safety concerns.

There were 50 reported cases of assault on St Johns Ambulance NT paramedics during 2019 but that figure would be significantly higher if every attack was recorded, according to ambulance services director Andrew Thomas.

"It's becoming almost a culture within paramedics that it [is] almost seen as being accepted," Mr Thomas explained.

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"Across the Northern Territory we had a number of assaults where our paramedics received physical blows to the face and the head, some of them have been when their back was turned, and we've all seen the information around one-punch hits.

"We've had people spat on, people threatened with objects … rocks thrown at vehicles while they are driving.

"It is probably fortunate that over 2019 we haven't seen anyone more seriously injured."

Of the 50 reported assaults in 2019, 34 were physical and resulted in multiple staff requiring medical treatment and having to take time off work.

Mr Thomas said the issue was not unique to the NT and was prevalent across Australia's ambulance services, despite multiple public campaigns to reduce the violence.

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A sudden blur of violence . I told her that I felt fine, but as soon as I spoke the pain kicked in. All of a sudden I struggled to breathe. Join me in talking about violence against paramedics . Together we need to raise the public's awareness of the hazards we face and the assaults on our brothers and

Paramedic Shelly Brown was allegedly assaulted in 2015 while working with a patient in the back Brown said she had noticed an increase in violent behaviour toward ambulance staff in her nine Alcohol remains the main risk-factor faced by paramedics , despite high-profile attention on drugs

"Unfortunately, we are seeing a rise in violence and aggression towards not just ambulance staff but other health professionals as well," he said.

"There is a lot of work to be done to look at what is the cause but clearly drugs and alcohol are a precipitating factor."

Mr Thomas said the number and frequency of assaults had taken a significant toll on staff and, at times, delayed the urgent medical treatment of patients.

"We're probably now starting to see some of the psychological impacts on staff," he said.

Assault© ABC Assault

"They might not feel as comfortable to respond at night-time or certain types of cases might bring back some sort of memory.

"Trying to keep an eye in the back of your head, takes one eye off the patient.

"We've told people before, for their own safety, to pull back and wait for police to come and support them."

Being spat on 'extremely difficult'

Following a spate of physical assaults on St Johns Ambulance NT workers during the December holiday period, paramedics across the Territory have issued a plea to the public to try and stem the torrent of abuse.

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Assault© ABC Assault

For Alice Springs paramedic Amy McCaffrey, being punched on two separate occasions during her graduate year was not as traumatic as some of the other incidents her colleagues have been through.

"Some of my colleagues can't even talk about some of those events. That's how greatly they have impacted them," said Ms McCaffrey.

"For me personally, being spat at is extremely difficult for me to deal with. Mentally, that has the biggest effect on me.

"But we are often spat at, sworn at, yelled at. It's actually more than just the physical [assaults] that takes a toll on our mental health."

Abuse so frequent first responders have become desensitised

Ms McCaffrey agreed many assaults remained unreported.

"There is absolutely no excuse for abuse but, because we are subject to it so often, we become really desensitised to it and we often don't report it," she said.

"What is really sad about all these incidents, is that we are just here to help and it takes away from what we really got into the job to do."

Assault© ABC Assault

Paramedics forced to flee scenes due to violence

Steve Schrieke was working in Darwin and trying to help a patient into an ambulance when he received a blow to the side of his head last month.

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A FEMALE paramedic broke down in tears after being sexually assaulted by a 75-year-old patient in the back of She told the Eastern Daily Press that the shocking incident left her feeling "devalued" as a "Patients who assault paramedics put a lot of pressure on staff and it causes unnecessary stress.

Speaking out has saved my life. Along with years of therapy and supportive family and friends, incorporating my story into my work as a spoken There’s long-standing training for how to be a first responder. All too often, we think first responders are only firefighters, paramedics , police, rescuers

"We were told we had a patient that had taken his own leave from the hospital and needed to be returned, that's the only information that we got in our dispatch over the radio," he said.

"There was large group of people, all drinking, they were waving us down so we knew we had reached the right location."

Mr Schrieke was lowering the vehicle's steps to help the patient get into the ambulance when he was punched in the face.

Assault© ABC Assault

"I actually said to my colleague, 'we had better watch our backs here' when we arrived. Because we could see people were intoxicated. But I had deemed it safe, we had a good way to get out," he said.

"The person that I had deemed not a risk was the person who actually struck me to the head."

Since that day, Mr Schrieke said he had become a lot more wary at work.

"It has made me more skittish," he said.

"We want to build a rapport quickly with people but if you are ready to jump away at any stage then it will take longer and we don't have a lot of time in our job to understand what their problem is or where their pain is and how we can help them."

'Back off and let us do our job'

Mr Schrieke said verbal abuse was almost "a weekly occurrence".

"There have been incidences where people have had to flee scenes or get out quickly just because there is a lot going on or the police haven't arrived yet and they feel threatened."

But none of this has changed how Mr Schrieke feels about his job, which he said he still loved.

"It is vulnerable people in difficult situations and I don't think, for my colleagues and myself, that it will stop us from doing our jobs," Mr Schrieke said.

Mr Thomas said health professionals just needed space and a safe environment to work in.

"We get that scenes get emotive but back off and let us do our job," he said.

"Support us. If the scene is getting escalated or people are around the place, someone just grabbing them and walking them away and letting us do our job so that we can get in and get out is in the best interest of the patient and our staff."

The NT Government introduced harsher penalties under the criminal code in 2019 for those who assault health workers.

The amendments introduced now apply the same penalties to those who have assaulted paramedics as those who have assaulted police.

The NT Government has not responded to questions regarding how many people have been prosecuted under these new laws since they were introduced.

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