Paramedic describes "nightmare" after being spat on by abusive patient

A paramedic has described her “nightmare” after being spat on while trying to take a woman to hospital in an ambulance during a night shift.

Tracy Higginbottom, who has been a paramedic for more than 20 years, said the experience in Cornwall left her feeling “contaminated, broken and defeated”.

She spoke out after South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) revealed more than 100 staff members have been physically assaulted while on duty since the start of lockdown.

Tracy said: “Violence and aggression appear to be escalating, and is something we have to deal with as a part of our job. But I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.

“The patient had taken drugs and consumed alcohol in the community. She was out of control and vulnerable. We have a duty of care, and I was genuinely concerned for her welfare. So I decided she needed to go to hospital, even though it was an hour and a quarter away.

“It really kicked-off in the ambulance. She was swearing, kicking and spitting everywhere. It took two of us to hold the patient down to prevent her coming to harm and to prevent her damaging the ambulance.

“Afterwards I felt very distressed and traumatised. I was so determined not to allow this horrible experience stop me doing the job I love.”



Tracy decided not to press charges against the person responsible for the assault.

Jenny Winslade, SWASFT executive director of quality and clinical care, said: “We praise Tracy for her bravery and courage in speaking out about this dreadful experience. Nobody should have to face that kind of unacceptable behaviour, especially not a healthcare professional caring for a patient.



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“Sadly our people face violence and aggression every day while they are trying to protect and save our patients’ lives, which can have serious consequences on them, their families and colleagues.

“They put themselves at risk for the sake of others, and we support whatever action is necessary to protect them from harm. Please respect our people, and help them to help you.”

Ambulance staff reported 106 physical assaults by patients and other members of the public between March 23 and August 23.

They also reported 212 incidents of verbal abuse with more than one in four from callers to 999 Control Room staff.

Reported incidents include a separate spitting assault against a staff member in Bristol, which prompted a public appeal by SWASFT and Avon and Somerset Police.

Additionally, emergency care assistant Mark Walker and a police officer were spat at by a patient in Dawlish, South Devon. The offender was sentenced to 22 weeks in prison for assaulting two emergency workers and being drunk and disorderly in a public place.

A man was also jailed for 20 weeks after coughing in another paramedic’s face.

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