A body-worn camera trial went live across the majority of ambulance hubs in October this year. Meanwhile in late September the service began trialling body armour with 22 volunteers in Willenhall. The body armour trial is expected to last until early in the new year.
On Wednesday this week a crew at the West Midlands Ambulance Service received their camera kit. They spoke of how grateful they were for the protection having previously been threatened at knifepoint by a patient.
WMAS announced the body-worn camera initiative in June. Data up to June this year showed that ambulance crews were subjected to 1,162 incidents of physical assault, and 2,181 incidents of verbal abuse, in 2020-2021.
The rate of attacks on crews has increased over the last five years. Physical attacks have risen by over 60 per cent in that period while verbal assaults have more than doubled, WMAS said.
WMAS ran a pilot using 30 cameras in the autumn of 2019 which fed into the decision by NHS England to roll the cameras out across the country. In over 36,000 hours of use, there were only three activations by staff, and only one of those related to violence.
Trust chief executive, Anthony Marsh, said: “The safety of my staff is of paramount importance to me. If they are injured, they are not available to respond to patients.
“The cameras will allow staff to record incidents where they feel at risk with any recordings being able to be given in evidence should an actual assault occur.
“Hopefully, they will never have to be used, but if they are, the evidence will hopefully increase the rate of successful prosecutions and subsequent sentencing. All too often my staff feel let down by the judicial system and this important step will help to redress that situation.”
All ambulance staff will be able to wear the cameras while they are on shift. They do not record all of the time and are instead switched on by the member of staff if patients or the public became aggressive or abusive. Once the device is recording, it will display red lights to show that it is recording.
Bee Knight, based at Shrewsbury, said: “When I was attacked in May last year, I suffered a wrist injury that left me in plaster for 10 days and a brace for five weeks. That was seven weeks that I wasn’t able to help patients during the Covid-19 pandemic when we needed every member of staff available.
“Having been through that, having a camera that I could switch on would make me feel much safer. It would allow a court to see the actions of the offender and judge for themselves what happened.”