A growing trend of assaults on emergency services staff, including police, paramedics and hospital workers, has been called ‘alarming’.

Blue light services across the South West have joined together to highlight an ‘alarming’ trend in assaults on their staff.

Last year there were 46 assaults on police officers in North and West Devon - a sharp rise on the previous year.

Toby Davies, superintendent for North and West Devon, called the amount of assaults in the region ‘wholly unacceptable’.

He told the Gazette: “Over the last 12 months we have had 46 recorded assaults on police staff within our area (58 per cent higher than the preceding year).

“In reality the true figure will be far higher as many staff are not reporting all assaults, something we are working on locally to improve.

“Officers have been assaulted in a number of ways, for exmple, we have had several victims of being spat at in their face; eyes gouged; pushed to the floor; clumps of hair torn out; severe bruising from punches to the head; dislocated knee; sprains and minor bone breaks.”

‘Wholly unacceptable’

Superintendent Davies said police officers, PCSOs and detention officers had all fallen victim to assaults.

He added: “Our officers are out there doing their job in often very difficult circumstances, it is wholly unacceptable that they are being assaulted trying to protect our communities and it should never be accepted as ‘part of the job’.

“Officers who have been assaulted should be treated in the same way as any other victim, as the impact is no different whether an officer or not.

“We should not tolerate assaults on any of our local emergency service workers or public servants going about their business and I fully support the calls for tougher sentences on offenders to send out a clear message that it is unacceptable within a modern society.”

Incidents at healthcare trust

In 2016, 334 incidents of violence and aggression were reported by staff at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust.

This includes instances such as verbal and racial abuse, threatening behaviour and physical assaults.

Darryn Allcorn, director of nursing, quality and workforce said: “Our staff work in a variety of settings, including in hospitals and also out in the community, providing care for people in their own homes, and we take their safety very seriously.

“We have done a great deal of work to look at how we can minimise risk to staff, patients and visitors.

“We have a supportive reporting culture, and we review all incidents to identify any lessons to be learned.

“We’ve increased security provision at our biggest site to provide 24/7 cover, and our community staff who visit patients at home have lone worker safety and monitoring devices.

“All front line staff complete conflict resolution training, and carry out extra training programmes where appropriate.

“Our staff have a right to work in an environment free from harassment, bullying or from the threat of violence, which can have a very negative effect on their own health.

“Our staff are there to look after patients and their families, and so we expect them to be treated with respect.”

Ambulance staff assaulted

During 2016, South Western Ambulance staff were on the receiving end of more than 140 assaults.

David Partlow, consultant paramedic from the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We take a zero tolerance approach to any form of physical or verbal abuse towards our staff, and all reports of violence and aggression are taken very seriously.

“We work closely with the police to seek prosecutions where possible.

“Every member of Trust staff plays a vital role in serving the community by helping to deliver the right care in the right place at the right time and staff should be able to fulfil their life-saving role without fear of abuse or assault.”

A spokesperson for Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service also added: “Assaults on emergency services staff not only put them at risk but could also have an impact on members of the public in need of our help.

“We do not tolerate the kind of behaviour and work closely with the police to ensure anyone committing a crime of this nature is prosecuted.”