AHA calls on government to back bill to protect emergency workers from assault and sexual assault

24 April 2018: Members and supporters of the Alcohol Health Alliance have today written a letter published in the Guardian to give their backing to a private members’ bill from Chris Bryant MP which would give greater protection to emergency workers who are assaulted. Many attacks on emergency workers are perpetrated by people who have been drinking alcohol.

In the letter, AHA members and supporters also urged the government to back an amendment to the bill, which would extend the scope of the bill to include sexual assault.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill will be debated in the House of Commons today.

The text of the AHA’s letter is as follows:

As leading health bodies and members of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, we write in support of Chris Bryant’s private member’s bill on assaults on emergency workers, and specifically his amendment to extend this bill to cover sexual assault. The bill will already make offences, including malicious wounding and grievous or actual bodily harm, aggravated when perpetrated against emergency workers. But it does not offer any additional protection against sexual assault. This is a discrepancy that cannot stand.

Research from the Institute of Alcohol Studies shows that between a third and a half of service people have experienced sexual harassment or abuse at the hands of intoxicated members of the public: over half (52%) of ambulance service workers reported that they had been the victim of intoxicated sexual harassment or assault, as did 41% of police staff, 35% of emergency department consultants and 34% of fire and rescue staff.

The evidence and shocking case studies from emergency workers across different professions make the case for including sexual assault in this bill. We cannot be in a situation where physically assaulting an emergency worker is recognised in law as being serious, but sexually assaulting them is not. We understand the government is resisting this amendment on the grounds of not wanting to create “two tiers of victims” of sexual assault. However, the bill does not give new or enhanced rights to emergency workers who are assaulted; instead, it offers protection to those people who – through their jobs serving our communities – are put at significantly greater risk of being sexually or physically assaulted. It recognises that these workers would not be in the position of being assaulted were it not for their jobs – so it is right that we make assaulting these workers an aggravating factor when cases are prosecuted. It will send a strong message to emergency workers that we stand by them, and to would-be perpetrators that these attacks will not be tolerated.

The bill, which will improve working conditions for frontline workers in emergency services, has been subject to a high degree of cross-party support, and we appreciate the support the government has shown. We now ask the government to reconsider its opposition to including sexual assault, and to support Mr Bryant’s amendment on Friday.

Prof Ian Gilmore Chair, Alcohol Health Alliance

Colin Shevills Director, Balance, the North East Alcohol Office

Katherine Brown Chief executive, Institute of Alcohol Studies

Dr Zul Mirza Royal College of Emergency Medicine

Dr Adrian Boyle Royal College of Emergency Medicine

Prof Jonathan Shepherd Cardiff University Violence Research Group

Dr Victoria Tzortziou Brown and Dr Jonathan Leach Joint honorary secretaries of Royal College of GPs council

Dr Liam Brennan President Royal College of Anaesthetists

Prof Dame Parveen Kumar BMA board of science chair

Dr Richard Piper Chief executive officer, Alcohol Research UK/Alcohol Concern

Prof Woody Caan Faculty of Public Health

Catherine Chiang Co-chair, Faculty of Public Health Alcohol Special Interest Group

Prof Matthew Cramp President, British Association for the Study of the Liver

Dr Kieran Moriarty British Society of Gastroenterology

Prof Frank Murray Consultant gastroenterologist, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin

Prof Roger Williams Director, Institute of Hepatology London

Deborah Jenkins Interim CEO, Blenheim CDP

Alison Douglas Chief executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland

Dr Eric Carlin Director, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems

Nigel Bongard and Terry Martin Trustees, Alcohelp

Prof Jared Torkington President, Welsh Association for Gastroenterology and Endoscopy

Dr Miles Allison Immediate past president, Welsh Association for Gastroenterology and Endoscopy

Dr Andrew Yeoman Consultant gastroenterologist/hepatologist, Royal Gwent Hospital

Prof Robin Touquet Emeritus professor of emergency medicine, Imperial College London and St Mary’s Hospital Paddington

Prof Eileen Kaner Professor of public health and primary care research, Newcastle University

Diane Goslar, Patient representative