Victorian health minister says trial will ensure successful prosecution of anyone who assaults a paramedic
Paramedics in Victoria will be fitted with body cameras in a $500,000 trial to see if it reduces the level of violence they face on the job.
Paramedics were exposed to violence at more than 5,000 cases in 2015-16, according to figures provided by Ambulance Victoria, at a rate of about 13 a day.
Of those 581 – about two a day – were formally reported as occupational violence incidents.
“It’s a sad indictment unfortunately of the community that these things are necessary but each day our paramedics are exposed to two cases per day of occupational violence and, in one of those cases a day, they are actually physically assaulted or abused,” the chief executive of Ambulance Victoria, Tony Walker, said. “That’s unacceptable.”
The trial will be run out of Ambulance Victoria’s northwest metropolitan district, which includes Melbourne city as well parts of the outer suburbs.
It is intended both as a deterrent and as a means to ensure successful prosecution of anyone who does assault a paramedic.
The Andrews government has funded 200 cameras for 150 paramedics as part of a $2.7m violence prevention fund directed at health workers.
It follows a similar trial among Victoria police officers, the results of which are still being evaluated.
Speaking to the media at the ambulance station in Sunshine, in Melbourne’s western suburbs, on Sunday, the Victorian health and ambulance services minister, Jill Hennessy, said paramedics would turn the body cameras on if they felt a situation had become volatile and tell everyone around them that they were now being filmed.
“What we want to ensure is we are using this as a tool to be able to discourage people and understanding that they will be subjected to accountability if they subject paramedics to violence and aggression.”
Paramedic Shelly Brown was allegedly assaulted in 2015 while working with a patient in the back of the ambulance.
“I was assisting a patient who was alcohol affected and had police around me and out of the blue she just attacked me and punched me in the face,” Brown told reporters.
“We were inside the ambulance when it happened, which is my office, and it really did mentally affect me. I had a bit of time off after that.”
The woman was charged with assault and the case is currently before the court.
Brown said she had noticed an increase in violent behaviour toward ambulance staff in her nine years as a paramedic, mainly in people affected by alcohol.
“Hopefully people are aware that if they are being filmed they might be a bit more conscious of their actions,” she said.
Alcohol remains the main risk-factor faced by paramedics, despite high-profile attention on drugs such as methamphetamines, particularly ice.
Steve McGhie, the secretary of the Victorian branch of Ambulance Employees Australia, said it was “disappointing” that the cameras were necessary but hoped the trial would be successful in reducing the number of violent incidents.
“The agenda is to try and prevent and stop people from even thinking about assaulting paramedics,” he said.
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