Drug-affected patients bring fears for safety of ambulance officers

TWO separate attacks on paramedics in Sutherland Shire in as many days have raised fears about the safety of ambulance officers as they increasingly face drug-affected patients.

A Sutherland Shire paramedic, who did not wish to be named, told the Leader two crews were assaulted in separate attacks days apart.

Co-incidentally, one of the all-female crew was a victim in both attacks.

The first incident was on Sunday, October 18, at about 6pm after ambulance officers were called to treat a man for a suspected overdose at a Cronulla hotel. 

It is believed he was being treated when be became aggressive and started punching and kicking the officers before he was restrained. 

Ambulance officers were called to the grounds of Our Lady of Fatima Primary School at Caringbah by police about 9pm Tuesday, October 20, after an unresponsive man was found.

An ambulance crew, including the same female paramedic attacked two nights earlier, was treating the man in the back of the ambulance when he regained consciousness.

This time it is believed it took a number of people, including attending police officers, to restrain the man, but not before he assaulted and bit the paramedics who were treating him.

Miranda police confirmed the man, 35, appeared to be drug-affected.

He was charged with common assault and was due to appear in Sutherland Local Court on November 2.

The ambulance officer who contacted the Leader said while the service often sent out emails to staff warning them about the potential for drug-related attacks, two serious assaults in as many days at the hands of apparently drug-affected patients was cause for concern.

He said he had been told the second man was taken to Sutherland Hospital in a very serious condition and was still being treated the next day.

Miranda Commander Superintendent Michael O’Toole previously told the Leader ice was a problem in the shire.

He said police had a range of strategies in place to deal with the problem, from usual patrols and intelligence to community engagement.

‘‘We want to reassure the community the police are taking action,’’ he said.

A NSW Ambulance spokeswoman said there had been 482 recorded cases of physical or verbal assaults against paramedics since 2012.

That peaked to an average of three a week in 2014.

‘‘The majority of these assaults occurred at the location of initial patient contact, with others occurring in or near the ambulance vehicle or at a hospital emergency department,’’ she said.

‘‘In the majority of cases [81per cent] the assailant was the patient.’’

NSW Ambulance Commissioner David Dutton said they had a zero-tolerance policy to any form of violence against paramedics. 

‘‘We actively encourage our staff to report any instance of verbal or physical assault and we work closely with NSW Police to ensure offenders are pursued to the full extent of the law,’’ he said.

‘‘NSW Ambulance has a comprehensive support program in place to assist paramedics when they experience stressful or traumatic situations in their work, including assault.

‘‘In addition to immediate support provided by on-duty managers, other services are available to all staff 24 hours, seven days a week, including peer support officers, chaplains and an employee assistance program.’’

Fairfax Media reported on Monday that paramedics were fighting further cuts to their death and disability insurance benefits, which were already behind other emergency services workers, including police and firefighters.

The Health Services Union will appear in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to argue against the state government’s proposal to change the insurance scheme for ambulance officers.The union’s state secretary Gerard Hayes said the NSW government had failed to acknowledge that paramedics ‘‘face risks every bit as dangerous as police and firies’’.

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