Revealed: The 111 places in Norfolk and Waveney where paramedics need police protection
- Credit: Archant
They are the heroes who rush to help us in times of emergency.
But today we reveal the violence, abuse and danger our ambulance crews face as they go on their mercy missions – including one paramedic stabbed with a drug addict's infected needle.
More than 100 addresses in Norfolk and Waveney are so perilous that crews have to have a police escort to visit them.
The 111 addresses where East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) staff have been victims of violence or aggression are flagged up as places crews may be at risk, it has been revealed.
Data obtained by this newspaper showed the NR30 area of Great Yarmouth had the highest number of unsafe addresses, with 16 on the list.
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The NR32 postcode area, which covers Lowestoft and surrounding areas, came second with 15.
In 2016/17 there were 256 assaults on EEAST staff, with criminal sanctions being brought against 41 people so far. This was up from 2015/16, when there were 232 assaults and criminal sanctions were brought against 66 people.
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Where crews have to wait for police officers to attend, it could cause a delay to treating the patient. But a spokesman for EEAST said staff safety was of the highest importance.
The figures highlight the dangerous situations crews can work under – a situation known only too well to a paramedic based at EEAST's Waveney depot, who we are calling John.
In June this year he was called to an unconscious woman at a homeless centre. But when he arrived he instead found she was conscious with an aggressive man.
John, who has worked for the ambulance service for 15 years, said: 'Both were under the influence of heroin and other unknown drugs. The man was in a blind rage and the situation escalated very quickly – I knew I was in trouble.'
The man was abusive and threatening, and John was stabbed with a freshly-used needle.
'I was later to find out it had been used by three addicts that morning, all confirmed Hep C positive and one HIV positive,' he said. 'All I could think about at that time was bleeding my injury and getting as much blood out as possible. I will be honest and say I panicked. I found a small kitchen within the centre and bled and washed my injury as much as humanly possible.'
The man followed John, threatening to kill him.
'All I could think about was that I had a dirty needle in me,' he said. He was trying to contact the control room, but his radio had poor signal. He was stuck.
'He was less than a foot away from me, I remember there was dirty cutlery including knives on the side and he was in such a rage I honestly thought 'this is it'. He lunged at me and spat directly in my face. I was covered in his spit and food that was in his mouth.'
Another ambulance crew turned up as back up and when police sirens were heard, the man fled, but was caught and arrested.
'To be honest it was all a blur,' he said. 'I was in shock and was now being told I had a high risk of being infected with any or all of the above. I was given some injections to help me fight the Hep B virus. I was told nothing can be given for the Hep C and I would need to go on a month's course of PEP (post exposure prophylaxis), the same drugs used to treat people that are HIV positive.
'When I finally got home I felt very dirty inside and out, knowing I have had that dirty needle inside me made me feel just disgusting.'
Three showers and 40 minutes in the bath later, John felt he still could not get clean. He said: 'That evening the world felt like a very lonely place to be.'
But when he woke the next day, he had hundreds of calls and texts from colleagues, and his depot had started a GoFundMe page to support him. What followed was five months of treatment which were 'just short of hell' and John had to give evidence against his attacker at court.
He had support from colleagues and Unison, and his attacker was jailed for three-and-a-half years.
He said: 'For me right now I am on the up and getting better each day, I still have plenty of off days and suffer with terrible fatigue. I feel my confidence has suffered in regards to being outside and in crowded places but that will get better in time and with some counselling.'
John said he had since been diagnosed with PTSD and spent months not being able to hug his four-year-old son due to the possible infection.
'I now won't know if I've been infected until December. The only thing I can do is keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. But I have come to realise that the people I work alongside everyday are simply amazing, they are kind, caring, selfless people who are there to help and support others in their down times.'
'Assaults are unacceptable'
John said both EEAST and Unison were very supportive after the attack.
The union had fought for him to be paid for the time he would need to have off, which EEAST agreed to.
And John said this took a weight off his shoulders.
Fraer Stevenson, Unison branch secretary, said: 'For any staff member to be assaulted during the line of duty is completely unacceptable.
'Staff come to work to care for their patients and they work exceptionally hard, often in very difficult circumstances.
'Our staff should be free to go about their work without fear of assault or injury.
'The law needs to support our frontline staff and act as a significant deterrent.
An EEAST spokesman said: 'In order to protect our staff, we ask our police colleagues to attend addresses where our staff have experienced violence or aggression.
'This may delay our response to the patient.
'However, the safety of our staff is paramount and they should be allowed to do their job without fear of being attacked.
'Under no circumstances is it acceptable to assault our staff and volunteers in the line of duty.
'In any cases where this does happen, we work closely with the police to see that justice is dealt as we have a zero tolerance approach to any form of violence and aggression to staff.
'We continue to support all of those who are affected by assaults and will always support and advocate for the prosecution of those who do so.'