Paramedics suffer abuse from members of the public on a weekly basis, according to one ambulance worker.
Stefan Frost, 24, a clinical paramedic in Oxford, told talkRADIO that as well as suffering verbal abuse, some ambulance staff have been physically assaulted.
“One issue we’ve often encountered at work is the level of abuse that’s put towards us,” he says.
“On a weekly basis we’re verbally abused to some extent. A lot of members of staff, I think it’s nationally one in seven members of the ambulance service, have been physically assaulted at work, so that’s something that is always on our minds.”
15% of NHS staff assaulted
talkRADIO has contacted the College of Paramedics to verify the one in seven figure.
An NHS Digital survey of 423,000 staff across the NHS found that 15% had experienced physical violence from patients.
Speaking on the 70th anniversary of the NHS, Mr Frost says the pride he feels at working for the NHS is “overwhelming”.
“It makes you feel good about yourself knowing you’re helping other people,” he says. “You get to make a difference to people’s lives, we go to them in their time of need and support them.
“It has its ups and downs like every employer, but it’s great working here.”
Being a paramedic ‘takes its toll’
Mr Frost started training at 19, and says that he had a “rose-tinted” view of what being a paramedic was like before the realities of the job set in.
“I came to this straight from school. I came with very rose-tinted glasses, how it’s seen on TV, programmes like 999 What’s Your Emergency,” he remembers.
“They all show the juicy stuff and the stuff the public want to see, they don’t show the nitty gritty.
“It’s not what you expect, from the range of jobs to how you’re treated by certain members of the public, to the effect it has on your wellbeing with your sleep patterns and stuff, it takes its toll.”
Mr Frost added that his partner works in A&E, so is understanding about the stresses of the job.
Some staff do struggle with the situations they witness, he says.
“Some of the stuff we see, whether it’s trauma or medical jobs, the effects families are left in and the social side, that has a big impact on staff,” he explains.
“A lot of members of staff battle with things they’ve seen and sometimes aren’t very open about it, whether it’s talking to colleagues or talking at home.”
‘A 12-year-old was left without her mum’
Stefan taking a patient into the hospital
One situation that stayed with him involved a 12-year-old girl whose mother had suffered a brain injury.
“One particularly difficult call I attended recently was a lady who was found in the early hours of the morning having a fit by her 12-year-old daughter,” he remembers.
“It was just the mum and daughter who lived together. It transpired that mum had fallen down the stairs the night before and she’d had a significant bleed on the brain that was potentially terminal.
“Most likely, if she were to leave hospital, she wouldn’t be able to look after herself, let alone her daughter. The little girl sadly had no family around and the only next of kin was godparents.
“That was particularly difficult, because while we deal with the sadness of people dying quite frequently, it’s not very often that we have to deal with the fact that we’re leaving a 12-year-old without their mum how they knew her. That was a difficult job for myself and all others involved, including some of the doctors up at the hospital.”
Public shouldn’t ‘abuse’ ambulance service
People should also “take responsibility” for their health, he added, and not call an ambulance when they don’t need one.
“The biggest downside is how much [the service] is abused,” he says.
“A lot of people don’t take responsibility for their own health anymore, especially when it comes to the ambulance service, they see calling us as an alternative to speaking to their GP.
“Little do they know it costs £250 for an ambulance and it’s £50 to go and see your doctor in the cost scheme. Until that abuse stops, unfortunately the NHS is going to keep on struggling.
“We have certain regular callers in Oxford who’ve called ambulances upwards of 500 times a year. There are certain members locally who will call three or four times a day, five or six times a week. It’s quite shocking that that level of abuse is tolerated.
“It’s reaching a point where to stop it, we’re going to have to start saying no to people, otherwise we’ll lose the system as a whole, which is a terrible shame.”
He’s proud, though, of the NHS and its reputation: “It’s regarded very highly among the majority of the population, very few people have anything bad to say about the NHS.”