No prosecutions in any attacks on paramedics last year
Ambulance service records almost weekly events of ‘violence, harrassment, aggression’
the National Ambulance Service said it reports assaults to the gardaí and does not have a policy of not pursuing prosecutions. Photograph: The Irish Times
Nearly 50 attacks took place on paramedics last year but none of the incidents resulted in a prosecution against the assailant, according to National Ambulance Service figures.
There were 47 recorded incidents of “violence, harrassment and aggression” towards paramedics in 2016, documents released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act show.
The National Ambulance Service Representative Association (Nasra) said the lack of prosecutions over the attacks “does nothing except encourage assaults”.
The National Ambulance Service said it does not operate a “no prosecution policy” and decisions over what to do following assaults are taken in consultation with staff, management and gardaí.
The 2016 data shows that 10 attacks took place in the southeast, eight incidents took place in the southwest, seven in the northeast, six in the midlands, five in the east, four in the west, four in the midwest and three in the northwest.
Of these attacks, 39 were carried out by service users and six were carried out by members of the public. Members of ambulance staff were responsible for two incidents.
“There are service users who have assaulted the paramedics, there are family members of service users who have assaulted paramedics, there are passersby in the street when paramedics are dealing with an individual who have assaulted paramedics,” said Nasra national secretary Tony Gregg.
“It can be alcohol related, it can be drug related, it can be a pack mentality. But certainly it is an individual who should be aware that if they assault paramedics the fine and the penalties are severe.”
Under the Criminal Justice Act, anyone who assaults or obstructs a paramedic doing their duty could face a penalty of up to five years in prison as well as a fine of up to €5,000.
But Mr Gregg, himself a paramedic, said the lack of convictions demonstrated a disregard for the safety of ambulance workers. “If convictions are secured against people who assault paramedics it would be a clear demonstration that it will not be tolerated,” he said.
He said management in the ambulance service have not been adequately trained in how to pursue prosecutions over assaults. “It’s a training thing and managers are just unaware of their roles,” he said.
He added that the consequences of assaults can be severe for workers. “I’m dealing with a guy who has been out of work for two years following an assault. His injuries have caused him not to be competent enough to practice as a frontline paramedic,” he said.
“Very often the psychological injury can take a lot longer to heal than the actual broken bone and in that regard people can carry the effects of assault for many years after the assault itself.”
Asked about the issue of attacks on staff, the National Ambulance Service said it reports assaults to the gardaí and does not have a policy of not pursuing prosecutions.
“The National Ambulance Service, similar to our colleagues in the Garda Síochána and the Fire Service, are often on the receiving end of verbal abuse, threatening behaviour and physical assault from patients or the general public,” a HSE spokeswoman said.
“The NAS do not operate a ‘no prosecution policy’ and each incident of assault, whether actual or threatened is recorded on the HSE National Incident Management System. Decisions are taken in consultation with the NAS Staff concerned, NAS management and the gardaí as to the appropriate course(s) of action to be followed, including criminal prosecution of those responsible.”