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Alcohol linked to half of all 999 call-outs, figures reveal

Firefighter punched as he tried to save man and drunken revellers danced in front of ambulance.

Survey: Emergency staff reveal attacks and verbal abuse.
Survey: Emergency staff reveal attacks and verbal abuse.

Alcohol has been linked to half of all 999 call-outs, with one in three emergency workers telling a staff survey they have been attacked while trying to do their job.

Police officers, paramedics and firefighters said they have been punched, threatened and spat on as they stand on the front line during emergencies.

A new staff survey reveals 999 workers reported alcohol misuse as a contributory factor in around half of the incidents they were called out to in the four weeks before the survey was carried out.

One in three have been subjected to physical abuse while attending an incident and two-thirds have experienced verbal abuse.

The figures were revealed in a consultation over four weeks from June 17 until July 15, which was completed by 1900 staff from Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Police say the figures reveal a "depressing picture", with one firefighter punched in the face by a drunk man he was trying to save from a blaze.

A paramedic also revealed an ambulance on its way to a life-threatening emergency was delayed by drunk revellers who ran into the road and danced in front of the vehicle.

The anonymous responses to the surveys depicted the reality facing those on the front line.

The firefighter said: "I was in breathing apparatus at a house fire and I found a man lying in his bed.

"He had tried to cook after coming back from a night out but he was drunk and fell asleep.

"The smoke alarm was blaring but he only woke up when I shook him to see if he was alive. He punched me in the face."

An ambulance crew member revealed: "I have been assaulted, spat at and verbally abused too many times to mention.

"If people could only see the effect they have on an incident when they're under the influence of alcohol.

"We have to spend as much time looking after our own safety as looking after our patient."

Staff handling 999 calls highlighted their struggles to get key information about emergencies, describing the battle to understand callers so drunk they are unable to give their location or even state what they think is happening.

Assistant chief constable Mark Williams, of Police Scotland, said: "The demands being placed on the emergency services by people who are drunk are huge.

"On many occasions it delays police officers, firefighters and paramedics from getting to members of the public who really do need our protection and help.

"The findings of this survey are as stark as they are unacceptable. Over a four-week period, 36% of police officers were physically abused and 75% were verbally abused as a result of individuals who chose to misuse alcohol."

Assistant chief officer David McGown, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, sad: "The public will be shocked to hear our front-line firefighters and control officers are often abused and obstructed by people under the influence of alcohol.

"They are all working to save lives and protect property. Being drunk is absolutely no excuse for impeding emergency responders or directing abuse at them.

"We are determined to get the message across - this is reckless, criminal behaviour that risks lives and it can never be tolerated."

He added: "Officers answering 999 calls from intoxicated people often struggle to get details of where the incident is and what is involved, which makes it much harder for them to know what resources to send.

"Being unable to get reliable, accurate information also means that firefighters can be sent to incidents without vital information regarding people involved and the risks they may face.

"When someone is trapped in a fire this could mean our teams may not know where to focus their search, which therefore exposes them to dangerous environments for longer as they attempt to locate the person."

Daren Mochrie, the director of service delivery for the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: "Alcohol has a significant impact on ambulance operations across Scotland.

"Crews are responding to alcohol-related incidents every day of the week and at all times - it is no longer a weekend phenomenon.

"Our staff are highly trained specialist clinicians who all too often have to respond to people who are simply intoxicated, delaying their response to patients with a genuine medical need.

"There can also be wider impact on our operations as precious resources often have to be taken off the road to be cleaned after an intoxicated patient has been sick, which takes time and removes an ambulance that could available to respond to a medical emergency."

He added: "Our front-line staff should not have to fear for their own safety when treating patients but alcohol is a key factor in most assaults.

"They respond to patients in all weathers and situations and deserve the public's respect for the high-quality care that they provide.

"However, at times they are verbally abused and have to put up with being pushed and spat on, as well as being kicked, punched and in some extreme cases assaulted with a variety of weapons.

"Instances of this kind of behaviour would fall dramatically if people learned to drink responsibly."

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