Ambulance officer of 25 years Peter Bodenham says an increase in drug use is responsible for an increase in violence against paramedics.
Ambulance officer of 25 years Peter Bodenham says an increase in drug use is responsible for an increase in violence against paramedics. Jay Cronan

Ambos take it on the chin

PETER Bodenham has been strangled, lunged at and threatened all in the line of duty.

On one occasion, the Ballina paramedic was driving an ambulance carrying two patients and another paramedic in the back along the Pacific Hwy at St Helena when one of the drug-affected patients lost control.

"We had a patient in the back that was affected by ecstasy and we took his mate too because he was displaying unusual behaviour," he said.

"I was doing 90km/h on the highway and the guy jumped up the front and tried to drag me into the back.

"He strangled me and I could not reach the break pedal to stop the car.

"The other paramedic had to pull the guy back and (the patient) threw a few punches. We could have been killed in that.

"We were lucky police were driving past at the time and we waved them down."

Sadly, Mr Bodenham's experience of being assaulted while trying to provide a life-saving service is not uncommon in the NSW Ambulance Service.

In January alone, there were 18 harm to staff member incidents - the highest number in one month in the past three years.

In the 2009/2010 financial year, there were 116 harm to staff member incidents reported and 99 cases between July last year and February.

Mr Bodenham believes the increase in assaults on paramedics can be attributed to an increase in the use of recreational drugs.

"This is my 25th year on the job and I can see it's got more prevalent," he said.

"The use of recreational drugs, which contributes to mental health issues and the occurrence of assaults on ambulance officers, is related."

An amendment to the Health Services Act 1997 - passed in parliament last year - meant those found guilty of obstructing or hindering an ambulance officer would face a maximum five-year jail term.



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