Barones Donaghy: Support this bill and protect our brave emergency workers
By creating a specific offence of assault on emergency personnel we can both stem the tide of attacks on these selfless workers and restore their faith in justice, writes Baroness Donaghy
Sarah Kelly is a paramedic who, like hundreds of other paramedics, has been subject to sexual assault while alone in the back of an ambulance, sometimes by patients who are drunk or under the influence of drugs. Again, as with other paramedics, she did not walk away because the perpetrator was a patient and needed medical attention.
Some sexual predators manipulate a situation where they can be alone with a paramedic so that they can sexually assault them. As they do not have access to a person’s criminal records some women paramedics have actually been dispatched to the address of a predator who is awaiting court on charges of previous sexual assault.
The Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill will have its Second Reading in the Lords on 29 June 2018 after its successful passage in the Commons ably led by Chris Bryant, MP with strong support from Holly Lynch, MP. The bill is intended to create a new aggravated offence of assaulting an emergency worker.
Clearly no worker should be attacked in the course of their duties and any increase in violence and sexual assault against staff is unacceptable. However, emergency workers – police, firefighters, doctors, paramedics and nurses, prison officers or people assisting these professions in the execution of their duties – put themselves on the line to protect the public.
Parliament spends a considerable amount of time praising the bravery of emergency services in some of the most appalling tragedies. This is our chance to help protect the protectors and help stem the tide of increasing assaults.
Assaults on Police Officers, whether it be Police Federation or Home Office figures, add up to hundreds every day. At least twenty assaults a day on prison staff. Two hundred a day on NHS staff. In West Yorkshire alone there were 95 attacks on operational fire crews last year – a 50% increase over 2016.
Some of the stories told are horrifying and although attacks have reached epidemic proportions, there is also a serious problem of under-reporting. Firstly some emergency workers do not think anything will be done about an attack and, even if they do report an incident, the chances are that the perpetrator will receive a suspended sentence. This leads to a lack of faith in the criminal justice system to deliver proportionate sentencing.
The Bill, which I have the enormous privilege of taking through the Lords, will create a specific aggravated offence of assaulting an emergency worker. This would include malicious wounding, grievous or actual bodily harm and common assault.
The Bill applies to England and Wales and I am grateful to the Welsh Assembly for bringing forward the legislative consent motion in a timely manner. The Bill is supported by all the trade unions representing emergency workers and the Government has allowed parliamentary time for it.
This is our chance to show real and effective support for the tremendous work performed by our emergency services.
Baroness Donaghy is a Labour peer. The second reading of the Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill is on Friday 29 June