A paramedic has shared an emotional video message after being spat at by a patient in Cornwall.
Tracy Higginbottom, a South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) paramedic, was spat on while she was taking a young woman to hospital in an ambulance during a night shift in North Cornwall.
She is one of more than 100 SWASFT staff members who have been physically assaulted while on duty by members of the public since lockdown was imposed.
Tracy, who has been a paramedic for more than 20 years, said the “nightmare” experience left her feeling “contaminated, broken and defeated”. She took a month off work to recover.
She recorded the video – which you can see above – the day after the incident in July in which she described the episode and the impact it was having on her.
Tracy said: “Violence and aggression appear to be escalating, and is something we have to deal with as a part of our job. But I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.
“The patient had taken drugs and consumed alcohol in the community. She was out of control and vulnerable. We have a duty of care, and I was genuinely concerned for her welfare. So I decided she needed to go to hospital, even though it was an hour and a quarter away.
“It really kicked-off in the ambulance. She was swearing, kicking and spitting everywhere. It took two of us to hold the patient down to prevent her coming to harm and to prevent her damaging the ambulance.
“Afterwards I felt very distressed and traumatised. So I took some time out, because you need to be in the right frame of mind in my role.
“Now I’m back at work with support. I was so determined not to allow this horrible experience stop me doing the job I love and from being a part of my wonderful green family.”
Tracy decided not to press charges against the person responsible for the assault.
Fighting back tears in the video, Tracy said: “The worst thing I had thrown at me last night was a face full of spit.
“We’re already vulnerable during this pandemic. One thing we can’t protect ourselves from is people who think it’s okay to spit in paramedics’ faces.”
Jenny Winslade, SWASFT Executive Director of Quality and Clinical Care, said: “We praise Tracy for her bravery and courage in speaking out about this dreadful experience.
“Nobody should have to face that kind of unacceptable behaviour, especially not a healthcare professional caring for a patient.
“Sadly our people face violence and aggression every day while they are trying to protect and save our patients’ lives, which can have serious consequences on them, their families and colleagues.
“They put themselves at risk for the sake of others, and we support whatever action is necessary to protect them from harm. Please respect our people, and help them to help you.”
Ambulance staff reported 106 physical assaults by patients and other members of the public between March 23 and August 23. This figure compared with 77 during the same time period in 2019.
They also reported 212 incidents of verbal abuse during the five months, compared with 183 last year. More than one in four (56) of the verbal incidents were by callers to 999 Control Room staff.
The reported incidents included a separate spitting assault against a staff member in Bristol, which prompted a public appeal by SWASFT and Avon and Somerset Police.
Emergency care assistant Mark Walker and a police officer were also spat at by a patient Mark was trying to treat in Dawlish, South Devon.
The offender was sentenced to 22 weeks in prison for assaulting two emergency workers and being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
A man was also jailed for 20 weeks after coughing in a paramedic’s face.
The #Unacceptable campaign, which was launched in 2018, aims to highlight the abuse and assaults faced by emergency services workers while on the job.
It reminds people that assaults of this nature are unacceptable, and are a crime under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018.
SWASFT is encouraging people to share social media posts in support of the campaign to spread the message as far as possible.