Hands off – Help us spread the message that assaults on ambulance officers are not tolerated

St John has a strong message for the public – abuse and assaults on ambulance officers will not be tolerated and prosecutions will be sought.

Ambulance officers are the frontline of our health system, and respond to acute emergency situations.  Every call they attend places paramedics and ambulance officers in unknown and potentially dangerous situations.

“My ambulance officers have had enough,” says St John Chief Executive Peter Bradley. “We simply won’t enter a dangerous scene, we will retreat and your mate or loved one won’t get the treatment they need while our personal safety is at risk.”

Any situation involving emergency services can be stressful and emotions can run high St John is asking New Zealanders to support the message Hands off our Ambos!

Ambulance officers can’t save your life if they are trying to protect their own.

PLEASE NOTE: This video features three ambulance officers sharing their real life experiences of assault, and a re-enactment of a violent incident filmed with two paramedics and actors.  St John thanks everyone involved for their contribution.

Do people really act aggressively or violently towards ambulance officers?

Yes, in the last year St John’s frontline ambulance officers have been physically and verbally abused nearly 3000 times, including:

  • being spat on 
  • aggressive behaviour sometimes with a weapon
  • threats of violence
  • physical assaults including kicks, bites and punches.

A third of these cases involved physical aggression and violence with up to 10 incidents a month being serious enough for ambulance officers to need hospitalisation and ongoing treatment.

Why would someone threaten or interfere with an ambulance officer when they are there to help?

Ambulance officers have to contend not only with the needs of their patients, but also with members of the public who through anxiety, deliberate belligerence or intoxication, can exhibit the most aggressive and violent forms of challenging behaviour.

Half of all ambulance abuse and assaults over the last year involved alcohol and recreational drug use while 15% could be attributed to mental health issues.  They occurred mainly in Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton and the metropolitan centres, although rural and remote communities also involve risks

What is the impact on ambulance officers?

Ambulance officers are caring, non-judgemental professionals whose focus is on helping their patients.  However, sadly every ambulance officer has at least one experience of abuse or assault.

The impact of 'less serious' challenging behaviour, such as verbal abuse, can be cumulative, and over time contribute to low morale and high levels of stress and insecurity.

Serious assaults can lead to hospitalisation and ongoing consequences for health and wellbeing.

What support is available for ambulance officers?

St John ambulance officers receive training to help them recognise dangerous situations and have processes to withdraw or not enter until back up arrives.

Frontline ambulance officers are supported by our 111 Clinical Control Centres who monitor staff welfare and arrange back-up if needed. (Our 111 Call Handlers also regularly experience verbal abuse.)

Our people receive excellent support from Police and other colleagues in the emergency and health sectors.

Measures in place to support staff after an assault include welfare checks, manager and peer support, our member assistance programme, and St John’s chaplains.

St John also encourages our ambulance officers to seriously consider prosecution when assaulted.  This decision lies ultimately with the individual; however, if an ambulance officer does pursue prosecution, St John provides ongoing support.

What can I do to support our ambulance officers?

Respect our ambulance officers because they're here to help. Share our video and help us spread the word that it’s not acceptable to be disrespectful, threaten or harm an ambulance officer.

Talk with younger members of your family to educate them about the important role ambulance officers and how we should always treat ambulance officers with respect – in case one day they need our help.

Provide general support to St John’s frontline ambulance officers by becoming a member of Team Green.

Are ambulance officers who work alone at greater risk?

Yes, St John is on a mission to bring the single crewing of emergency ambulances to an end because the risks for ambulance officers and patients are unacceptable.  Over the past three years, we have reduced the number of single-crewed responses from 45,868 in 2013 (12.5% of all responses) to 37,182 during 2015 (9.6% of all responses), and we are on track to achieve full crewing in the near future. 

We have also taken steps to mitigate the most serious risks for our people and more initiatives are underway.

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