Ambulance crews in London have begun wearing body cameras to protect them from violent assaults and threats.
The new kit is being rolled out as part of a trial, starting in areas where London Ambulance Service staff and volunteers are considered to be most at risk, based on previous incidents. Medics can press a button to start recording if patients or members of the public become aggressive or abusive.
Emergency Ambulance Crew Gary Watson, who is based at Croydon Ambulance Station, will be among the first people to wear one. He was violently assaulted by a drunk patient three years ago.
He said: ‘We need these cameras. We get up every day to help people, not to be severely beaten. Wearing these cameras should act as a deterrent and, if it doesn’t, then at least there will be evidence which will hopefully mean tougher sentences for criminals.’
Gary, 33, suffered a torn ligament and serious injuries to his face, throat, and neck in the attack in January 2018. Two other medics were also injured and a fourth badly shaken. A man was found guilty, but only given a suspended sentence.
The latest figures from the London Ambulance Service show there have been 529 violent incidents between April 2020 and January this year. Those attacks include kicking, punching, head-butting, biting, and spitting and there have also been 31 assaults with weapons.
Meanwhile, during the same period, there have been 834 incidents of verbal abuse and threats. There are concerns that many more incidents go unreported, despite a campaign to encourage staff and volunteers to report all abuse.
As well as the cameras, London Ambulance Service has recruited two violence reduction officers and launched the #NotPartoftheJob campaign, as part of its ongoing work to protect staff and volunteers.
So far this financial year, 27 people have been successfully prosecuted for attacks on ambulance staff – 18 of those were jailed.
Louise Murray, a violence reduction officer, said: ‘We are working closely with the police to help support staff and volunteers when they have been assaulted or abused. Any video footage recorded on our cameras can be used as evidence and in turn, we hope it will help to secure more prosecutions.’
Recent legislation means anyone found guilty of attacking emergency services staff and volunteers can be jailed for 12 months; those convicted of more serious cases of assault can face up to two years in prison.
London Ambulance Service chief executive, Garrett Emmerson, said: ‘Nobody should feel unsafe or threatened at work – particularly our crews and call handlers who continue to make huge sacrifices to care for patients and have never worked harder.
‘Looking after our people, keeping them safe and supporting their well-being is our top priority.
‘It is shameful that our staff and volunteers can be abused while caring for others and we will always push for the prosecution of anyone who attacks them.’