Booze-fuelled attacks on medics soar

VIOLENCE against emergency medical workers in East Anglia is growing at an “alarming” rate due to Britain's binge drinking culture and drug taking, it has been warned.

VIOLENCE against emergency medical workers in East Anglia is growing at an “alarming” rate due to Britain's binge drinking culture and drug taking, it has been warned.

One Suffolk hospital has seen double the number of violent incidents against staff in its accident and emergency department while ambulance bosses revealed paramedics had been assaulted in three separate attacks in a single evening last month.

The rise has been blamed on excessive drinking and drug taking - particularly at weekends - and health workers fear the problem will only escalate as pubs extend drinking hours under new laws.

Figures obtained from Ipswich Hospital show the number of violent incidents against staff in A&E, which include physical assaults and verbal abuse, doubled from 28 in 2003 to 58 last year.

Although the hospital saw an overall reduction in reported violent incidents, from 245 in 2003 to 241 last year, hospital spokeswoman Jan Rowsell said it took the issue extremely seriously.

“The Accident and Emergency department, and our acute medical unit, are the front doors and the main gateway and clearly whatever happens in the community happens in this hospital, because hospitals are part of the community,” she said.

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“If you look at the rate of violent incidents in Ipswich caused by people having too much to drink there is very sadly a knock on effect on us.

“But we do have to bear in mind we care for 400,000 people a year and 241 out of 400,000 is a very small percentage.”

The hospital operates a zero-tolerance policy towards patients and visitors who are either verbally or physically abusive, and has police officers on site in addition to extra security staff.

On September 24, paramedics were physically assaulted in three separate incidents in the region, the East Anglian Ambulance Service NHS Trust has revealed.

One of those was in Haverhill, one in Norfolk and another in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, where members of an aggressive crowd entered the ambulance and began to violently shake the vehicle.

Matthew Ware, trust spokesman, said: “There has been a definite increase in verbal and physical assaults over the last five years.

“The fact that there were three physical assaults in one evening demonstrates the trend is not going down and if anything is still going up.

“A Friday and Saturday night shift has become a more frightening experience than it should be.

“It's definitely increased with the increase in the number of people going out and getting drunk.

“Essex has just introduced stab proof vests. We have not currently plans to do so yet.”

In Essex in 2004 there were 26 physical attacks on ambulance staff. By the end of July this year, the figure was already at 21.

An Essex Ambulance Service spokeswoman said there appeared to be no particular reason for the increase in attacks.

Reports of assaults at Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, have also risen this year, a spokeswoman for Mid Essex Hospitals Trust said. However, the spokeswoman attributed the rise to the introduction of a new policy which encourages staff to record any incidents.

Tony Jones, regional spokesman for public service union Unison, said he was alarmed at the rising number of incidents across the region.

“I would not say it is restricted to binge drinking. People use a number of different things and illegal substances, which basically take all their rationality away from them and when they over indulge they end up in hospital and cannot control themselves,” he said.

“Clearly we have been working closely with the trust to introduce measures to try and reduce these incidents and in fairness to Ipswich Hospital, they have employed more security people and there is a police presence on the site.”

The trend appears to have been reversed in at least one of the region's hospitals, with the West Suffolk in Bury St Edmunds reporting a year-on-year fall in violent incidents in A&E.

In total, 24 complaints - ranging from verbal abuse and threatening behaviour to assault - were recorded against staff in 2003 compared to 18 in the following 12 months.

A spokesman said the hospital operated a zero tolerance policy towards offenders, adding the trust was “willing and able” to prosecute privately if the police were unable to pursue a complaint.

A spokesman for Suffolk police said last night: “Tackling violence in a public place remains the priority for Suffolk Constabulary as does working in partnership with other agencies to highlight some of the consequences of binge drinking and help people avoid becoming victims of alcohol-related crime.”

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