The very least our emergency workers such as ambulance crews, firefighters and police officers deserve our utter respect and gratitude. As part of showing them that respect and gratitude means we need to do all we can to protect them whilst they do their jobs. In Scotland, we are failing to do that.
For example, since 2015 Scottish Ambulance Services staff have been subjected to 460 verbal and physical assaults since the beginning of 2015. Indeed, out of the 460 assaults in total, 372 of them were physical and 88 verbal, which includes spitting.
On top of that, in the summer it was revealed that ambulance crews are prevented from entering more than 2500 addresses in Scotland amid fears for their safety. Added to which a recent survey from Unison Scotland showed that Health Boards have reported a total of 18,225 assaults on NHS workers in their latest annual returns.
In 2016/17, 61 firefighters were involved in incidents where they were physically or verbally abused or had objects thrown at the fire engines - causing injuries to seven staff. As well, last year there were a number of incidents involving disorder and fire-starting, one of which resulted in serious injury to a police officer in Edinburgh, as well as lots of property damage. These figures demonstrate the difficult working environment these public servants are have to work in.
This is a subject is particularly pertinent due to us having just passed bonfire night because we see an increase in violence against emergency workers, in particular by some using fireworks against emergency workers.
I believe that these figures show a complete failure to keep emergency workers safe at work. There is a number of reason for this including a lack of equipment and adequate procedures, gaps in the law and the inability of the courts to take serious enough action and punish people accordingly.
That is why I was glad that my party, the Scottish Conservatives, announced support for a series of measures that would better help protect and support emergency workers.
These measures include the closing of the gap in the law that prevents police searching for, seizing fireworks, and ensuring that emergency workers receive further protective equipment for emergency workers in risky situations, with serious consideration to be given to the increased rollout of body cameras so that it easier to collect evidence.
Additionally ensuring that all violent incidents involving emergency workers are reported, taken seriously and investigated fully and violence reduction plans are implemented, as they currently are not.
Finally, and most importantly in my view, is the proposal to introduce a statutory Aggravator for those who attack emergency services staff. What this would do is give the courts the ability to make someone’s sentence in prison longer because the person they attacked was an emergency worker.
Not only is it important in the practical session that it would give the courts the ability to do something but it also would serve as an important symbol that we will not tolerant our emergency workers being attacked as they go about their vital work. Emergency workers deserve better and it is time more was done to support them.