PARAMEDICS are twice as likely to be assaulted by patients than they were last year, shocking new figures reveal.

The number of attacks on staff at the Great Western Ambulance Service has almost doubled to 44 between April 2008 and March 2009, compared to 23 in the previous year.

One clinician, who does not wish to be named, was attacked in a patient’s home. He said the incident had left him worried about the risk of further attacks.

"I always considered I had a pretty good radar for picking up when this sort of situation was developing," he said. "In nine years of pre-hospital care prior to this, I had not been subjected to physical assault.

"This incident brought home how, on the face of it, the person was extremely unlikely to become violent – but it shows it is not always your drunken, Saturday night individual who is liable to behave like this.

"Following the attack, I am more conscious of the dangers when I attend 999 calls as a solo responder. I have lost faith in my ability to judge situations and be aware of when they might suddenly become more difficult."

The assailant, a regular user of the 999 service, was sentenced to six months in prison and had previous convictions for assaulting emergency services staff.

David Whiting, GWAS chief executive, said: "It is totally unacceptable for our staff to be subjected to assault – physical or verbal – in the course of their life-saving work. While 44 physical assaults, out of more than 233,000 emergency responses our staff attended last year, may be fairly low, it is still 44 too many.

"The experience of our paramedic who has spoken out shows that it is not just the physical attack that is damaging – it has an ongoing effect on him, his colleagues and family and his confidence in continuing to provide the best care for his patients.

"I am determined that anyone who does attack any member of my staff is subject to the full force of the law."

The incident figures have been released by the NHS Security Management Service as part of NHS Security Awareness Month.

Ian Britton, GWAS Local Security Management Specialist, said: "While it is fortunate that none of the assaults was physically that serious, there are clearly longer term effects that can have an impact on their professional and home lives.

"The ambulance service nationally faces particular difficulties, as by the nature of the work, staff need to attend patients in highly-charged, difficult or remote locations – often as a solo responder in the first instance. However, this can never be an excuse for assaulting the person who is there to provide vital clinical care."

GWAS paramedic and Unison branch spokesman Chris Hewett said: "Unison condemns any attack on ambulance staff. We continue to work closely with GWAS to prevent attacks and to support members who are victims of assault."