Paramedic shares emotional video message after spitting assault

9 September 2020, 12:56

By Joe Cook

A paramedic has shared an emotional video message after being spat at in the back of an ambulance by a young woman.

Tracy Higginbottom was working a night shift in Northern Cornwall in July when she said a “completely out of control” patient gave her a “face full of spit” in the back of the ambulance en route to hospital.

“I had to convey this patient quite a long way to hospital, in the back of an ambulance along with a police officer for a good hour and ten, fifteen minutes,” a tearful Tracy recounted in a video she filmed the morning after the assault.

Tracy Higginbottom shared an emotional video after being spat on
Tracy Higginbottom shared an emotional video after being spat on. Picture: South West Ambulance Service

“During that time, I think I fought with her for well over an hour. She was kicking, she was flailing, she was calling me names... The worst thing I had thrown at me last night was a face full of spit.

Tracy, who has been a paramedic for 21 years, said: “We’re already putting ourselves out there during this pandemic. We know the risks that we take, but one thing we can’t protect ourselves from are people who just think it is okay to behave like they do, and spit in paramedics and ambulance staff’s faces.”

The South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) said Tracy is one of 106 members of their staff who have been physically assaulted while on duty in the five months after the lockdown was imposed.

This figure compared with 77 during the same time period in 2019. They also recorded 212 incidents of verbal abuse during the period, compared with 183 last year.

Tracy said her ambulance had to be decontaminated after the assault, as there “was spit all over it”, and, despite taking two showers, when she finished her shift she was left feeling “contaminated and dirty”.

“I have this anxiety about if she did have something that she could pass on to me,” Tracy said, “I was pretty well protected but you still know with all this airborne virus, you can’t see it. This can’t go on, people need to start taking responsibility for their actions.”

Tracy was emotionally “pretty broken” and was forced to take a month off work to recover from the experience.

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.

Tracy decided not to press charges against the person responsible for the assault, but other staff who have been assaulted at SWASFT have.

One offender was sentenced to 22 weeks in prison for assaulting two emergency workers and being drunk and disorderly in a public place, while another man was jailed for 20 weeks after coughing in a paramedic’s face.

“We understand that people have addictions, that people have drug and drink problems, that they have issues. We want to support that, but we can’t keep supporting people abusing us like this,” Tracy said.

“You’re breaking us and you’re not going to have many long term, experienced, members of staff left if this carries on.

“When you see those signs on the ambulance doors about not being violent to our members of staff, don’t be violent to us, it’s easy. That’s all we ask.”