Paramedics’ radical move to cut out attacks
Sydney Morning Herald. 21 November 2019
“Imagine someone who you’ve never met, who doesn’t know you, coming to you for help, then attacking you, verbally attacking you, threatening you.”
This is the daily reality for paramedics and emergency control staff, who have shared their harrowing experiences in a video released by NSW Ambulance to shine a light on their abuse.
“I have been punched, kicked, spat in the face,” said one person in the video.
“We’re there to help. So why hurt us?” asked another.
Paramedics have been attacked 400 times in 2019, NSW Ambulance says.
From Thursday, they will have “another set of eyes” as part of a 12-month trial of high-tech body cameras to help protect them from being assaulted.
Sixty body cameras will be used by paramedics across three ambulance stations in Liverpool, Everleigh and Newcastle as part of the NSW Government’s $48 million reforms to protect frontline healthcare staff.
Chief Commissioner of NSW Ambulance Dominic Morgan said paramedics had come to expect occupational violence was “just a normal part of the job” but “no paramedic should ever come to work expecting to be assaulted”.
“It’s important that we can show to the courts the level of violence that paramedics get exposed to,” Commissioner Morgan said.
Paramedics can choose to switch the cameras on in circumstances that could lead to threats of violence, and patients will be warned that they are being filmed.
Trainee paramedic Angus McGrath said the cameras were “a great step forward”. He chose to work at the Liverpool Ambulance Centre to participate in the voluntary trial.
“There’s just no limit to how far we can go in creating a safe workplace,” Mr McGrath said.
South West Sydney and the CBD were the most dangerous government areas for metropolitan paramedics to operate in. Bankstown, Liverpool and Sydney city recorded the highest number of assaults in the state.
The trial aims to determine whether it is possible to strike a balance between protecting paramedics and the civil liberties of the public being filmed without consent.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said: “We need to look after the people who look after us and if this technology can help deter abuse and assaults against frontline paramedics, we need to give it go.”
“Hopefully agitated individuals will modify their behaviour when they realise their actions are being recorded because our paramedics are not a punching bag for anyone’s frustration,” he said.
Health Services Union NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes said the cameras had the potential to help police track down and prosecute people who assaulted paramedics, and if the trial was successful the program should be rolled out across the state.
The NSW government and NSW Ambulance had developed a range of other strategies to reduce the likelihood of assaults, including providing more face-to-face training and more effective mobile data terminals to pinpoint paramedics’ exact location.