Scotland

Blue light crews abused by drunk people

Patient being helped onto ambulance
Image caption Ambulance crews reported being assaulted, spat at and verbally abused on emergency calls

Two-thirds of emergency service workers were punched, threatened or spat on while they dealt with incidents over a four-week period, new figures reveal.

A staff survey has shown alcohol misuse is a contributory factor in about half of 999 calls.

It is the first time the police, fire and ambulance services have come together to highlight the problem.

They said alcohol-related incidents tied up resources which could be needed elsewhere.

The staff survey, completed by 909 police officers, 824 paramedics and 167 fire officers, revealed one in three had been subjected to physical abuse in the previous four weeks while attending an incident as a result of alcohol misuse, and two-thirds had experienced verbal abuse.

Almost half of all incidents attended by the emergency services in that period were alcohol-related, while almost two-thirds of emergency personnel had faced difficulties in securing urgent information because of victims or callers being intoxicated.

'Punched'

In the anonymous survey one firefighter recalled: "I was in breathing apparatus at a house fire and I found a man lying in his bed. He had tried to cook after coming back from a night out but he was drunk and fell asleep.

"The smoke alarm was blaring but he only woke up when I shook him to see if he was alive. He punched me in the face."

An ambulance crew member said: "I have been assaulted, spat at and verbally abused too many times to mention.

"If people could only see the effect they have on an incident when they're under the influence of alcohol. We have to spend as much time looking after our own safety as looking after our patient."

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams, of Police Scotland, said the demands placed on emergency services by people under the influence of alcohol were huge.

He said: "On many occasions, it delays police officers, firefighters and paramedics from getting to members of the public who really do need our protection and help."

Assistant Chief Officer David McGown, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said 999 calls from intoxicated people often gave confusing details of the incident.

"Being unable to get reliable, accurate information also means that firefighters can be sent to incidents without vital information regarding people involved and the risks they may face," he said.

"When someone is trapped in a fire this could mean our teams may not know where to focus their search, which therefore exposes them to dangerous environments for longer as they attempt to locate the person."

Drunk revellers

Daren Mochrie, director of service delivery for the Scottish Ambulance Service, said the public would be shocked to hear how frontline emergency staff and control room operators are often abused and obstructed by people under the influence of alcohol.

"Our staff are highly trained specialist clinicians who all too often have to respond to people who are simply intoxicated, delaying their response to patients with a genuine medical need.," he said.

"There can also be wider impact on our operations as precious resources often have to be taken off the road to be cleaned after an intoxicated patient has been sick, which takes time and removes an ambulance that could available to respond to a medical emergency."

One response to the survey revealed an ambulance on its way to a life-threatening medical emergency was delayed by drunk revellers who ran into the road and danced in front of the vehicle.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, gave the charity's backing to the emergency services' campaign for more responsible drinking.

She said: "Reducing our overall alcohol consumption, with particular targeting of high-risk groups, will help ease the pressure on our police, fire and ambulance staff.

"But encouraging people to drink less is difficult when we are surrounded by cheap alcohol that is constantly promoted as an everyday product."