Former Mayoress left shaken by weekend attack

THE former Mayoress of Lisburn, Yvonne Craig, was left shaken and bruised last weekend after becoming the latest paramedic to be attacked as she tried to help a patient.

Mrs Craig, the wife of Councillor Jonathan Craig, and her ambulance crew mate responded to a call for help for a young girl who had fallen whilst drunk in Ballynahinch at around 10pm last Saturday night.

However, shortly after leaving Ballynahinch the girl became aggressive, demanding to be allowed out of the ambulance. She started to to kick out at the crew and eventually headbutted Yvonne.

Yvonne and her crew mate were left for half an hour trying to restrain the girl while they waited on police to arrive.

And according to Yvonne, who has been with the Ambulance Service for twelve years, attacks on paramedics are on the increase. Just two weeks ago six crews were attacked over one weekend, with one member of staff being held in a headlock by a patient.

Speaking about the weekend incident, Yvonne explained: "We arrived on the scene at 10.15pm. We were speaking to the patient, who had fallen and hit her eye. We eventually persuaded the patient, who was quite drunk, to get into the ambulance, but after about five minutes of the journey she didn't want me to take her pulse and she wanted to take off her seatbelt. We are not allowed to drive if someone has their seatbelt off so my crew mate stopped and phoned the police and explained that the patient wanted to get out."

She continued: "We were out in the country and it wasn't safe to let her out. We explained, 'look, you're on a busy road, you couldn't walk in a straight line, we can't let you out', but she kicked my mate and we got her sitting down. We then tried to restrain her and she tried to bite both me and my crew mate and she tried to take off his glasses and then she headbutted me."

The crew had a half hour struggle with the girl before police arrived. "We called the police at 10.35pm and they arrived around 11.05pm," said Yvonne. "Just before quarter to we notified control that we had been assaulted and we kept her in once place for 20 minutes. My crew mate made another call at around five to eleven and at two minutes past we received a text to say the police were on their way and they came around five past eleven."

Yvonne, who said her "nose was a bit sore", added: "Whenever you are trying to help someone that is not what you expect to get."

The ambulance crew did not press charges against the girl following the incident. Yvonne explained: "We just felt that it was more of a wrestling match with us rather than maliciously attacking us.

"The police did come just a bit slower than we expected. We were only five minutes from where we picked the girl up and we weren't driving fast so we were expected the police from the scene to be with us in a matter of minutes, but it wasn't even that crew who came. As we came through Anahilt there was a police checkpoint there and we just thought, 'Why couldn't you have come?' "

Describing how she felt after the attack, Yvonne said: "I was shaken by it, it certainly wasn't what I expected when I got her on board. Most drunks calm down when they are on board."

Speaking about the growing number of attacks against paramedics, she said: "A couple of weekends ago there were six crew injured, three rapid response crew and three crew, which has two staff. In one incident the patient had a girl in a headlock and she was on her own as she was a rapid response crew. It is hard to predict which ones are going to be dodgy but it seems to be on the increase, I don't know why. I've been with the Ambulance Service for 12 years and you get some verbal abuse, but you don't expect physical abuse. It is fairly rare but it shouldn't be happening at all. We are not there to arrest anyone, we are there to help people."

Whilst Yvonne should have taken time off after the incident, she decided to carry on and the importance of her work was brought sharply into focus early on Sunday morning when she helped to save a man's life after he had taken an overdose.

"I sort of thought my injuries were minor, especially compared to something like that. If I start getting scared over something like that I'll get scared over anything. You have to have a wee bit of bravery to keep on going."

Meanwhile, Yvonne's husband, the Lagan Valley MLA, hit out at those who inflict abuse, verbal, or especially physical, on emergency staff and called for further controls, rather than liberalisation, to laws governing the sale and use of alcohol.

He said: "As an elected representative I was appalled to find that any member of the emergency services would be attacked. However this is not a unique occurrence.

"This is appalling and demonstrates an abuse of alcohol. They are not only damaging themselves, but in the process injuring and maiming those whose job it is to medically care for them.

"Clearly this points to an issue of alcohol abuse in our society and points out that controls need to be kept on the supply of alcohol and that now is not the time for liberalisation of any licensing laws."

Mr Craig added: "I also found it appalling that it took over 30 minutes for the PSNI to respond to this incident. A team of officers were dispatched from Saintfield despite the fact that Police officers were conducting a car check point less than a mile away. Meanwhile the paramedics injured on the scene had to keep the person restrained until the Police arrived. The area where the incident occurred straddled two Policing districts and demonstrates the need for Policing units to communicate more effectively, particularly across districts.

"This is an issue I will be writing to our members of the Policing Board about as it clearly highlights communication problems between districts and is putting not only our emergency services, but members of the public at risk.

"Speaking as a husband I was alarmed that such an attack had taken place, but I am relieved that no serious injury has occurred. While I was concerned that neither my wife, nor her partner, took time off after this incident, it was humbling to find out that less than three hours later both of them, as paramedics, saved the life of an individual who had taken an overdose. So while at a human level I may have my personal concerns I have to respect the dedication, commitment and care that drives and motivates emergency staff in fulfilling their role."

A PSNI spokeman said: "At 22.41 last night (Saturday 26) police received a report from NIAS that a female patient was acting aggressively towards ambulance staff. The nearest available police crew was tasked and arrived at the ambulance 's location at Lisburn Road, Ballynahinch at 23.03.

"No complaints were made by the ambulance crew and the female patient was removed from the ambulance and conveyed back to Ballynahinch by police."