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Ambulance service worker tells how man threatened to ‘blow up his family’

There have been more than 300 recorded incidents of physical or verbal abuse against Scottish Ambulance Service staff in the last year, new figures showed (Garry F McHarg/Daily Record/PA)
There have been more than 300 recorded incidents of physical or verbal abuse against Scottish Ambulance Service staff in the last year, new figures showed (Garry F McHarg/Daily Record/PA)

An ambulance service call handler told how someone threated to blow up his family, as new figures showed Scottish Ambulance Service staff have suffered more than 300 physical and verbal assaults in the last year.

Pauline Howie, chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), made clear any abuse was “completely unacceptable” as it released new figures detailing such incidents.

Over the period from December 2021 to the end May 2022, the service recorded 142 verbal and physical assaults on staff members.

Meanwhile, there were 313 such incidents reported over the 12 months from June 2021 to the end of May 2022.

The figures were released on the back of the nationwide #WorkWithoutFear campaign which has been launched by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE).

Neil Hardy, a former paramedic who now works as a call handler at the SAS east ambulance control centre told how dealing with aggression and abuse from callers has become a common part of his job.

Mr Hardy said: “Being on the other end of abusive behaviour happens more often than people would think.

“There are two types of abusive calls we receive. The first is the callers who are angry and aggressive because they are scared and we have the training to calm them down and deal with it.

“The second is more difficult and it’s when the caller is abusive from the moment we answer the call. I received a call from a man who had a family member with stomach pain and he wouldn’t accept the assigned triage. He became very aggressive and accused me of failing his family.

“After a tirade of abuse, he said he would track down me and my family and blow us up.

“I knew that it was unlikely that he would follow through with this threat but it was still completely unnecessary and upsetting.”

Call handler Neil Hardy told how one man had threatened to track him down and blow up his family (Scottish Ambulance Service/PA)

Mr Hardy added: “During a shift we may take 60 or 70 calls a day and so there is a likely chance we will be abused on a number of calls throughout a shift. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.

“Sometimes we have to take a moment to catch our breath and I’ve seen colleagues very upset and have to step away from the phone.”

He added: “Everyone who works in our control rooms is doing the job because they want to help people and we don’t deserve to be abused while doing so.

“When you’ve been here a while you get used to it, but the fact it happens so regularly is very distressing.”

Ms Howie said: “It’s completely unacceptable for emergency workers to be experiencing verbal and physical assaults, particularly when they are responding to calls for assistance.

“They should not have to fear for their safety when treating patients, or be verbally assaulted over the phone when handling calls.

“They work incredibly hard, helping people in need and keeping them safe, and sadly we’ve seen incidents occur in other parts of the NHS and against our police and fire colleagues too.

“While these new figures are for recorded calls, I have no doubt there are many more assaults that go unrecorded. As a service, we provide support to our staff to report incidents to Police Scotland so that they can take the matter further.”