Paramedics need police escort at 470 Lothians homes

Ambulance workers are demanding police protection before entering hundreds of homes across the Lothians. Picture: John Devlin
Ambulance workers are demanding police protection before entering hundreds of homes across the Lothians. Picture: John Devlin
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PARAMEDICS have been warned against entering 470 addresses in the Lothians without a police escort amid escalating violence.

The growing problem has been fuelled by drunks treating ambulances as a taxi service, calling 999 to demand to be taken to hospital then getting violent when they are refused.

Four times as many homes are “red-flagged” compared to three years ago after being deemed too dangerous for paramedics to enter without police back-up.

Ambulance staff report violence and threatening behaviour to the control room, so call handlers can notify crews for future calls.

The number of these “no-go zones” has shot up by nearly 450 per cent since 2012, making Lothian the worst place in Scotland after Greater Glasgow.

Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw, who obtained the statistics, said: “Frontline ambulance staff do an incredibly important job and they have the right to go about their normal duties without fear of being attacked.

“When someone is convicted of attacking a paramedic, the punishment should be severe enough to make it plainly clear that this will not be tolerated.

“At a time when budgets are constrained, we cannot afford to have ambulances waiting outside no-go addresses. This can also stop other crews from attending other life-threatening emergencies.”

Ambulance staff facing regular trouble are “at their wits’ end”, said Mick Conroy, senior organiser at GMB Scotland.

He said: “These attacks are clearly on the increase.

“A lot of the time we turn up at these addresses for people who are abusing the system. We get there and see there is nothing wrong but then when you say that the person might turn violent or their family and friends might turn violent.”

He described an incident where paramedics were attacked after refusing to pick up a man who was too drunk to get a taxi. “We turn up and see it is a social matter, rather than a medical matter, but so often that is not what people want to hear,” he said.

“This is what staff have to put up with day in, day out.”

He claimed around 90 per cent of calls the service deals with were drink-related, and alcohol was a consistent factor in attacks on paramedics.

Campaigners said alcohol abuse must be tackled to reduce the burden it places on the emergency services.

Jennifer Curran, acting chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Paramedics are spending far too much time dealing with the effects of alcohol and it is having a huge impact on the ambulance service.

“It is completely unacceptable that ambulance crews are having to put up with verbal and physical abuse while they are providing such an important service to the public.

“If we are serious about tackling the burden alcohol places on paramedics, and our other emergency services, we must take action to increase the cost of the cheapest, strongest drinks, and regulate the availability and marketing of alcohol.”

Ambulance crews are given training to made an informed decision at the scene whether to enter a house or wait for a police escort, according to an ambulance service spokesman.

He said: “Every year, ambulance crews report incidents of physical assault, ranging from pushing and punching to spitting and attack with a variety of weapons. They deserve more respect for their dedication to patient care, often provided in the most challenging of situations. In most of these incidents alcohol is a key factor.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com