Paramedics demand tougher sentencing for drunks, drugged

NORTHERN NSW paramedics facing the nightly threat of being bashed, spat on and abused by drug users and drunks have demanded tougher sentencing for offenders.

The New South Wales Health Service Union has called for the State Government to follow Queensland's lead and introduce 14-year maximum jail sentences for assaults on health workers.

HSU state secretary Gerard Walsh was a paramedic in Kempsey for more than a decade and experienced the violence first-hand.

He became a union official in 2000 and has since watched the number of horror stories continually rise.

"The risk of assault on the job was always there," he said.

"We had people who were injured, but also found ourselves in very serious situations from pub brawls to sieges."

"It's already a daunting task, but you're trying to render assistance and then find out you're going to need it for yourself."

Mr Hayes said the Christmas and Schoolies period always resulted in upsurges in health worker assaults - not only for paramedics, but many times for security officers and nurses working in emergency rooms.

He said Lismore, Ballina and Grafton hospitals were not immune from the attacks.

"Byron Bay and Tweed are hotspots but you will see it in any emergency department, in this day and age," he said.

Only 69% of health workers in the northern NSW local health district felt their workplace was proactive in minimising potential violence or abuse from patients and visitors, according to a 2013 industry-wide NSW Health survey.

Thirty-nine per cent had been verbally abused by a patient or visitor in the last year.

"There has to be more of a focus on education to change the culture in schools, but there needs to be consequences too," Mr Hayes said.

"We support serious sentences for people who attack health workers." 

Common theme: drugs and alcohol

Australian Paramedics Association president Wayne Flint recalled two recent attacks on northern NSW paramedics.

There was a common theme: drugs and alcohol.

"In June, a Grafton paramedic narrowly managed to avoid being physically assaulted by a 35-year-old man with drug-induced psychosis," Mr Flint said.

"He reported it to the Ambulance Service but felt there was a lack of support from local management so he followed it up to police.

"The assailant received six months' community service."

Another paramedic was attacked by a woman who had crashed her car into a parked vehicle in the Byron area in August.

"She whacked him in the chest, and then she was restrained by firefighters who also got assaulted," Mr Flint said.

"For every attack you hear about, there would be two or three that are never reported.

"We deal with the aftermath, when paramedics are suffering and come to us for assistance with compensation.

"We even had one case down south where a paramedic had a gun held to his head.

"He still hasn't been back to work and that was about four months ago."


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