London paramedics introduce bodycams following surge in violent attacks

Mar 3, 2021

The London ambulance service is the only one in the UK to routinely give its staff stab-proof vests for protection. This is not an unnecessary precaution: every day, an ambulance staff member is attacked in London. Since April last year alone, more than 500 staff have been assaulted. Kicking, biting, punching, spitting and verbal abuse are all part of the repertoire. There have been 850 incidents of verbal threats and abuse and possibly many more which go unreported. On the deadlier side of the spectrum, thirty-one incidents involved weapons.

According to London Ambulance Service, there has been a 34 percent jump in the number of violent assaults. Attacks went from 468 in the financial year 2018-19 to 625 in the year 2019-20. So far this financial year, 18 people have been sent to prison for attacks on ambulance staff.

Bodycam to act as deterrent

In order to try to and prevent physical and verbal attacks, the London Ambulance (LAS) is testing bodycams in the most high-risk areas for staff and volunteers, based on previous incidents. Gary Watson, who has been an emergency crew member for 10 years and is based in Croydon, explains to BBC reporters that abusive behaviour has become the norm. Intentionally spitting at people, for instance, is becoming increasingly common with Covid-19.

After being assaulted by a drunk patient three years ago, Gary was left with strangulation marks around his neck, a torn ligament on his shoulder and a back injury which incapacitated him for several months. After a two-day trial, he was told that there would be a 100-pound compensation for each assaulted person – for which he is still waiting.

Changes in the law in 2018 make it possible for anyone found guilty of attacking emergency workers (or volunteers) to be jailed for 12 months. Those involved in more serious cases of assault can face up to two years in prison.

Bodycams make paramedics feel safer

The bodycam market experienced a huge growth in 2020 and is rapidly expanding to different sectors. So far, they are making a big difference in the de-escalation of conflicts and feelings of safety of various healthcare workers and fire departments.

The bodycams which have now been introduced in the most high-risk areas in London are not compulsory, but are available for those who choose to take them out. They are activated after clearly notifying those around you that you are about to do so. According to Gary, you feel safer wearing a bodycam because you know that if something happens, you’ve got visual and audio evidence as proof. He says: “Wearing these cameras should act as a deterrent and if it doesn’t then at least there will be evidence which will hopefully mean tougher sentences for criminals.”
Garrett Emmerson, London Ambulance chief executive says: “Nobody should feel unsafe or threatened at work – particularly our crews and call handlers who continue to make huge sacrifices to care for patients and have never worked harder.”

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