'Paramedics are not punching bags': Illawarra superintendent

Paramedics are not punching bags: that’s the word from the region’s top ambulance officer.

NSW Ambulance Service Illawarra zone manager Superintendent Rick Hamilton has seen it all in his 38 years of service - paramedics kicked, punched, spat on and more.

He’s even been the target of violence on occasion - once attacked by a man wielding a knife while he was trying to tend to the man’s sick mother.

So he fully supports the NSW Ambulance Service’s ‘zero tolerance’ of violence against its staff, which was reiterated after the alleged assault of a paramedic on Sydney’s George Street in the early hours of Sunday.

Assaults on paramedics are not limited to the streets of Sydney - seven paramedics were assaulted in the Illawarra in 2013, and this year has got off to a bad start with another paramedic allegedly assaulted on Sunday.

‘‘Seven assaults were reported in the last 12 months where police were involved and charges laid, or where paramedics had to seek treatment for their injuries,’’ Insp Hamilton said.

‘‘Just on Sunday a drug-affected patient lashed out and injured one of our paramedics who suffered injuries to the chest and face and needed treatment at Wollongong Hospital.

‘‘The message I’d like to get out is that paramedics are not punching bags, they’re good guys, they are there to help, and they don’t need to be bashed and assaulted.’’

NSW Ambulance Service figures show assaults against paramedics across the state increased from 89 in 2012 to more than 133 in 2013. There were 10 assaults in the Illawarra in 2012, compared to the seven last year.

‘‘The Illawarra incidents included paramedics being kicked, spat on and having objects thrown at them,’’ a NSW Ambulance Service spokeswoman said.

Insp Hamilton said there was a time when paramedics were considered off-limits. 

‘‘Years ago it was very rare that a paramedic was assaulted, and if it did happen it was usually by accident,’’ he said.

‘‘Now there’s a number of different types of assault: there’s assaults by patients who are in a drug or alcohol affected state, there’s assaults by mental health patients who become violent due to their condition.

‘‘But what’s most worrying is the increasing number of assaults from the outright vicious person, the person who thinks it’s fun to assault a paramedic. We all have a responsibility to stop that.’’

Insp Hamilton said the NSW Ambulance Service’s anti-violence campaign ‘If You Hurt a Paramedic’ was designed to stamp out the problem.

‘‘We turn up because someone has called us to help,’’ he said. ‘‘If we are assaulted, or have to hang back and wait for police, then we are not able to help the person who needs assistance.’’

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