Unite has welcomed a new initiative that will see paramedics given body cameras to prevent rising levels of abuse and assaults from the public.
The cameras, which will be fitted on ambulance workers on duty, will have a button they can press that will start recording when patients or the public become aggressive. Police will be given access to the recordings as evidence if necessary.
The recording devices are being rolled out at a time when assaults on ambulance staff have increased significantly – last year, more than 3,500 paramedics reported being attacked, which represents a 32 per cent rise from five years ago.
The roll-out of body cameras began as a pilot programme in the North East and in London, where it was shown that the recording devices can help de-escalate situations when patients or the public become aggressive.
ITV spoke to paramedics who recounted how they were previously assaulted. One told of how he was attacked at the home of a patient who disagreed with the ambulance crew’s decisions on treatment.
“They’ve got up, they’ve punched us, they’ve grabbed us, they’ve shoved us towards the door,” North East Ambulance Service paramedic Richard Ilderton told ITV.
“When you’re going in to help somebody and they become aggressive towards and start threatening you, it’s upsetting, it’s saddening,” he noted. “It makes you question what you’ve come into. You’ve come in to help people, look after people, and to have that then turn back at you with anger and sometimes violence – it’s just really disheartening.”
Another paramedic, Gary Watson of London Ambulance Service, who was part of the body camera pilot in London told ITV how he was attacked by a drunk patient three years ago and suffered severe injuries.
He said that cameras were needed to not only act as a deterrent but to provide evidence to police so that perpetrators are brought to justice.
“We go to work to help people, not to be assaulted,” he told ITV. “It’s disgusting that a minority think it’s OK to behave in such a violent way.”
While Chair of the Unite Ambulance committee Debbie Wilkinson welcomed body cameras for ambulance staff, she said that standards for their use must be governed in consultation with staff and their trade unions.
“Unite ambulance members broadly welcome the roll out of body cameras for ambulance service employees across England and we hope all stakeholders across the ambulance service, like our trade unions, are involved and engaged in how this important piece of equipment is used,” she said. “We believe that our members want to feel as safe and protected as possible when carrying out their duties.
Wilkinson added, “We would also want to see an England-wide ambulance body camera standard operating procedure that ensures that employees have the freedom to use or not to use body cameras following a dynamic risk assessment, there is consultation with workers and their representatives about deployment of body cameras and that body cameras will not be used to snoop on ambulance service employees as part of employment related procedures for an employee.”
By Hajera Blagg