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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Paramedics to get body armour
London ambulances
Police may back-up ambulance crews
Ambulance crews in London are to be issued with body armour and police back-up amid concern over violent attacks on staff.

Stab and bullet-proof vests will be given to all 2,200 ambulance crew in the capital after trials in areas with high rates of violence.

On average, there is more than one attack per day on London Ambulance Service (LAS) staff.

The London Ambulance Service poster
The poster shows the beaten face of a paramedic
The new initiative follows the launch of a poster campaign last week stating there was no excuse for violence against ambulance staff while calling for tougher sentences for offenders.

The vests will be phased in over the next two years after staff asked for them, assistant chief ambulance officer Martin Flaherty told BBC News Online.

"We are getting far too many violent assaults on our staff. We think it is outrageous that they face physical and verbal assaults," he said.

Safety training

But he said this was just one of a range of measures which include giving staff personal safety training and employing a staff safety officer.

And the service is working with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute offenders.

Mr Flaherty highlighted the case of paramedic Simon Spencer who last year suffered multiple stab wounds to his face, stomach and arms after he was attacked by a drug addict.

Mr Spencer, 39, was tending to another man whom Steven Kelly had stabbed after breaking into a home in Stoke Newington.

Kelly was jailed for 12 years for the knifings.

Mr Spencer suffered serious injuries and is still off work sick.

But his experience is not an isolated one.

In the first three months of this year, 130 cases of physical violence and almost 400 cases of verbal abuse were reported.

The LAS is compiling an "at-risk" register which logs streets and houses where crews have been attacked.

Paramedics responding to calls at those addresses will be warned and the police may attend as back-up.

Jonathan Fox, of the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel (APAP), told BBC News Online, the development was welcome.

He said: "We would like to see it rolled out across the country.

"The level of assaults on ambulance crews is unfortunately rising and we have got to ensure that the protection of hard-pressed crews is paramount."

But Eric Roberts, Unison branch secretary for the LAS, said the debate continued within the service as to whether bullet-proof vests were the best solution.

"We want our crews to be safe but I don't personally think that body armour is the best tool."

Instead he wants to see a change in attitudes and the law to crackdown on the perpretrators of assaults.


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See also:

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