Just some notes that I made before going on Radio 5 Live to talk about this story.
Donal MacIntyre devoted part of his radio programme to it (and you can download and listen to it here, I don't know how long it will last).
So I got on the radio and said a few words (here for a few days – the section starts 1:03 in and again I suspect it only lasts a few days and won't let nasty foreign types listen to it).
But I didn't get a chance to say as much as I wanted to. But I have an audience here – so here goes…
Sadly we don't tend to flag addresses for people who are just verbally abusive to us, as I said in the radio segment, I'm working next Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and I fully expect to be sworn at on every one of those shifts. If I were to fill in forms for that sort of abuse I'd never get any work done. Instead we fill in the forms for those people who have either physically abused us, or have acted in such a way that there is a high chance of them physically abusing people in the future.
We fill out the form, explaining why we are flagging it as a dangerous address and then fax it off to Control (using the hospital fax machine, our station doesn't have anything so high tech as a fax machine…)
So the dangerous addresses are flagged by people who have actually been there. And trust me, if someone dies as a result of a delay by us waiting for the police, the person initially flagging the address will get some serious questions asked.
The flagged address system is a warning system, it informs and compliments our 'at scene' risk assessment. Sometimes we ignore it, sometimes we wait for the police. It all depends on the situation. If someone is reported as not breathing then we'll probably go in, if they are calling because someone in the house is drunk then we are more likely to wait for the police. An example of when it was right to enter the address is this one, while in this example it was right for me to wait outside for police assistance.
It's that sort of risk assessment that we make all the time, often without consciously thinking about it.
The address is reviewed every six months, taken off the register if there have been no further reports, at least that is how it was explained to me.
So why are people violent towards us? Obviously drink and drugs play a huge part, mostly drink. But I think that there is a more subtle thing in action here.
When I wear my uniform people do as I say, they don't see me as a slightly overweight bloke – they see me as a figure of authority, that I know what I'm doing and that it is in that person's best interests to do as I suggest. Conversely, the uniform dehumanises me – it makes me a 'thing' rather than a person and it's much easier to hit someone if you think about them as just being a 'uniform' rather than a living, thinking, feeling human being.
A lot of arguments are started because of the raised expectations of people to be looked after by the state, they don't want to wait for their treatment and they want an instant cure – this is why I would suggest that actual violence against staff is higher in A&E departments, although they do have security guards posted there now.
The dangers for ambulance staff have only increased – there are more solo responders now, and they go into situations where the police would turn up mob-handed. While solo's aren't supposed to be sent to assault cases on their own, I know that I attended a fair share of such things – often waiting ages for a proper ambulance to arrive. I remember one stabbing I was sent on and it took forty minutes for the ambulance to arrive. I'm just glad that the assailant didn't return to finish off the job he'd started.
The other huge danger is Call Connect.
Due to “call connect”, the government's new way of measuring the “success” of ambulance trusts, we are finding ourselves going into houses without any idea of the possible dangers. Once we are out of the ambulance, there is no way for control to contact the crew.
The new 'Airwave' radios have been delayed, so there is still no way for Control to contact us once we are out of the ambulance. We are often sent calls that just give the address.
I'm sent a call to a house I'm just driving up to – no further information is given. If I'd got out of the vehicle then I would have been met by a house full of drunks, one of whom had been cutting herself open with a kitchen knife and was arguing with the other occupants. Thankfully I don't give a damn about the government's ORCON target so I waited until more information came down – then waited for the police. If I hadn't done that there was a good chance that I wouldn't be here today writing this post.
To be honest, I would be very surprised if an ambulance person isn't killed in service before the end of next year.
Edited to add that I found the Unison's comments in the original BBC story particularly unhelpful, seeming to care more for the people who hit us than the members of their own union, then realising that there was a fence that they had to go and sit on.