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Paramedics 'absolutely support' mandatory prison sentences for people who assault first responders


Ambulance officers going to jobs have to not only focus on their work, but also what's going on around them with a high number of first responders being abused and assaulted.

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St John paramedic Lisa Buckingham says staff are pushed, pulled, punched and sometimes seriously injured on jobs. Source: Breakfast

There are more than 50 cases of abuse and assault against New Zealand paramedics each week. The figure has remained largely unchanged for the past few years.

In a bid to deter offenders, a new bill has been put forward in Parliament which would automatically jail people for six months who assault first responders.

The Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill, which would create a new offence of injuring a first responder or prison officer with intent, has a mandatory sentence of six months.

The bill, sponsored by NZ First MP Darroch Ball, had it's first reading last night.

St John paramedic Lisa Buckingham told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning it's something paramedics "absolutely support".

On jobs, Ms Buckingham said she has been punched and had her epaulettes torn off her clothing.

But she's one of the fortunate ones who hasn't been seriously injured. People are pushed, pulled at, abused and punched every week, and Ms Buckingham's even known of officers being knocked out and others having to run from the scene.

"It's stupidness," she said, describing the "heightened" situations paramedics attend, which are often also fuelled by alcohol and drugs.

"We're just horrified by it."

When asked by Breakfast host John Campbell though if a mandatory sentence was the right way, considering people may not be rational in those situations, Ms Buckingham said: "In those circumstances people are angry and they're sad, but that doesn't mean that you lash out at somebody".

"We all get angry, and we understand that some of these are really horrific things that people are going through and seeing their loved ones go through, but assaulting us is not going to change that."

Ms Buckingham believes assaults and abuse may have be a factor in some people leaving the profession.

She said it's always in the back of paramedics' minds that something could go wrong so they're always aware of their surroundings.

"We're head down but we are very aware," she said. "It's so unpredictable that it can be in groups, it can be one-on-one."