A man who sexually assaulted a paramedic as she was trying to help him into an ambulance represented just one of 49 reported sexual assaults on London Ambulance Service (LAS) staff or volunteers in 2022.
LAS issued a statement after paramedic Charlotte Miller waived her right to the anonymity automatically granted to victims of sexual offences, in the hope that it would encourage others to report similar crimes.
She described what happened: "My crewmate and I were encouraging the patient to get into the ambulance so we could assess him, but he grabbed my crotch and tried to grab me again. Then he pulled his pants down.
"I couldn’t believe it, I was asking myself if it really happened. I was frightened and scared. I think the reason I was so shocked was because it was so unexpected – I was there to help him.!
The offender, Naveed Ahmed, aged 35, from Ilford, was jailed in November for 9 months. Newly-released footage from an ambulance video camera showed Charlotte on her radio calling the police moments after the assault in Edgware Road last October. Officers arrived in less than a minute and arrested Ahmed.
LAS invested more than £3 million to equip its ambulances with video cameras in the attempt to protect crews, and reported that the resultant videos have been used in several successful prosecutions, with 92 submissions of video evidence since April 2022.
Ms Miller said of the incident: "The whole thing was sickening and disgusting and really made us feel quite vulnerable.
"But I would urge everyone to report these things because I was well supported by my management team and by the police.
"It's only by reporting this sort of behaviour and helping police to prosecute that the message will get through that there are serious consequences."
Campaign to Highlight Aggression Against Ambulance Staff
The LAS said that, in addition to the 49 sexual assaults, there had been a further 516 physical assaults – including kicking, punching, head-butting, and attacks with a weapon – and 601 reports of verbal abuse or threats of violence towards its staff in 2022. Last February, the service joined with other ambulance services across the country to launch a national campaign, '#WorkWithoutFear', to highlight violence, aggression and abuse directed towards ambulance staff.
The campaign, supported by NHS England, aims to promote "a no-violence culture" and help to create a safer work environment for front-line staff and volunteers, against a background of a reported 32 ambulance staff being abused or attacked every day last year. The latest figures showed that during 2020/21, 11,749 ambulance staff were abused either physically or verbally in England, representing an increase of 4060 incidents (53%) compared with 2016/17.
The most significant rise occurred during the initial pandemic period in 2020, when assaults leapt by 23% compared with the previous year. Alcohol was the most prominent factor in assaults against ambulance staff, followed by drugs and people in mental health crisis. Race and sexuality-based attacks were reported to have also increased.
Nor are attacks confined to ambulance personnel, though they bear the worst brunt. The 2019 NHS Staff Survey showed that 15% of NHS staff experienced physical violence from members of the public and patients in the previous year – rising to 34% among ambulance trust staff. Among all respondents, 695 (1 in 12) said they had been sexually harassed in the previous 12 months.
Abuse and Assaults 'Happen Too Often'
Commenting in February 2020, erstwhile Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that he was "horrified" that any member of the public would abuse or physically assault NHS staff, "but it happens too often".
He announced a joint agreement between the NHS, the police, and the Crown Prosecution Service to provide a framework to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of offences against emergency workers. He noted that in the survey only 49% of staff said that last time they had experienced harassment, bullying, or abuse at work it was reported, and urged all personnel to "report every incident and act of abuse or violence against you or a colleague".
The LAS has dedicated Violence Reduction Officers who encourage colleagues to report all incidents of abuse, while also supporting them through the court process.
London Ambulance Service's Chief Paramedic Dr John Martin said: "Our ambulance crews and call handlers should be able to work without fear of violence, sexual violence, or threats.
"They come to work each day to help others, so we will do everything we can to keep them safe and ensure they are treated with the respect they deserve."
Detective Constable Jorge Sobral, of the Metropolitan Police, who was part of the team that pursued the case again Ahmed, said: "Our colleagues in the ambulance service dedicate their lives to helping people, and it is not acceptable for them to be treated like this.
"We will always investigate crimes like this, and I would urge people to always report this sort of appalling behaviour to the police. This was a good result and will hopefully change people's behaviour."