Weaponised Paramedics? Really? And what about mandatory sentencing?

As I have written before, every country in the world has a unique approach to ambulance services. Indeed, within a single country and within diverse state boundaries, there are often a number of different delivery models required. The system suitable for the Gulbarga region of Karnataka (India) is vastly different from that needed in Bangalore, also located in Karnataka. Adelaide’s needs are different to Cooper Pedy. You get the idea….

This approach also extends to the need to protect paramedics and give them tools to provide a safe working environment. Again, the needs of Paramedics (EMTs) in New York are vastly different from those in Sydney or Kuala Lumpur. Mistakes are made if the solution that works in one location is imposed upon another without ensuring there is a match between the local situation, local laws, risk appetite and, of course, data. It may be suitable to place paramedics in bullet proof vests in one city. It does not mean this needs to be the default approach for every paramedic, everywhere.

So, you can understand my scepticism when I saw the headline stating “…Paramedics could be given weapons…” and its accompanying video titled “Ambos to be armed”. The thought of armed ambulance paramedics seems like something you expect to read out of the USA but- no! The article was from Queensland, Australia. It followed the announcement of a taskforce to investigate assaults on Ambulance Paramedics, notable a particularly horrific assault on a paramedic. (This article presents national data regarding assaults on paramedics).

Yet, when you delve into the newspaper article, the headline is probably best described as click-bait at best. While the Taskforce reviewed a number of options to address paramedic assaults, it seems no prehospital stakeholders, from the Paras themselves, their union or their management, expressed a desire for weapons of any type to be part of their kit.

Underlying the click-bait topics are two significant issues for the ambulance industry. The first is the growing number of assaults on ambulance staff and the need to take action to stop it happening. One of the outcomes was that the Queensland government is going to spend $AU1.35m on an awareness campaign to counter these attacks on paramedics. (One of the videos is included on this page for your reference). And while this is an approach being taken other ambulance services around the world, I wonder if the “typical” demographic causing the assaults will listen to any campaign to stop an ambo being attacked. This is part of the argument put forward by Amanda Blair in her articleHarsher jail terms for assaulting ambos won’t make them safer”.

Here’s the up-shot. No weapons. No Mace. No guns. No tasers. Certainly no armed Paramedics as suggested by the press article….. (Unless you include that Maglite … and maybe …. some discretely applied cable ties).

We are told that in any clinical approach to a patient, “D” comes first. That we should retreat and get back-up if a situation is potentially risky or turns hostile. However, some of the situations Paras find themselves in change in an instant and they are caught in dangerous and often unavoidable turn of events. While it should never happen, ambulance assaults will continue to occur. There are so many other aspects to improving the situation that an awareness campaign should be just the start of improving paramedic safety. However, in the vast majority of situations and operating conditions, weaponising Paramedics is a mistake and will probably increase their risk. And, as Michael Eburn suggests in his most recent posting “…if one wants to stop violence, mandatory gaol sentences will not be effective.” Sadly, he is correct..

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Craig Hooper is a health management consultant who specialises in emergency and pre-hospital healthcare operations. He has over 25 years industry experience; strengthening health and ambulance services in the public and private sector of 10 countries. His book "Time to Respond- Pre-hospital Leadership and Operational Management" is scheduled for release in early 2016.


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