AMBULANCE chiefs in the North-East have hit out after witnessing ‘the worst night of violent attacks on staff in living memory’ just after the first Covid-19 lockdown was lifted.

Councillors on Hartlepool Borough Council Audit and Governance Committee labelled the attacks "horrendous" and "appalling", especially following the continued hard work of paramedics in supporting the Covid-19 response.

The incidents occurred on one night in July across the North-East and saw two ambulances taken off the road and two members of staff taken to hospital, following three separate attacks on crews.

Mark Cotton, assistant director for communications and engagement at the North East Ambulance Service, told the committee about the incidents which occurred the weekend after lockdown restrictions were eased in July.

He said: “The following weekend we experienced as our service what I would probably say was the worst night of violent attacks against our staff that anybody in the trust in living memory has ever experienced.

“We had three ambulance crews attacked in very separate incidents in separate parts of the region, resulting in two ambulances being taken off the road and two ambulance staff having to seek hospital treatment.

“What we haven’t seen is an increase in assaults against staff per se, but there was that period of time where the proportion of those assaults that were violent were higher than they normally would have been.”

He added the service received an enormous amount of support following the incidents from councillors, politicians and public officials, which was greatly appreciated by staff.

At the time of the attacks the Government was looking to make amendments to the law to double the maximum sentence for assaults against emergency service workers from one year to two.

Mr Cotton added they were able to provide evidence towards the amendments, which have since been enacted by Parliament, and he hopes this will act as a further deterrent.

He said: “We’ve now seen the first offenders actually be jailed under that new law for a period of longer than 12 months, which is what they would have received previously.

“We hope that acts as a deterrent, thankfully we haven’t seen that level of violence since that we saw over the summer.”

The comments were made following an update to councillors on the work of the ambulance service in the past year, such as their continuous efforts in helping to tackle Covid-19.

Councillors praised the ambulance service for their work in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and hit out at the attacks against staff.

Cllr Ged Hall said: “It’s endemic in society at the moment with public workers, ambulance, police and fire brigade. I think it’s appalling.”

Cllr Brenda Harrison added the reports of attacks on staff were ‘horrendous’.

She said: “It must have been a very challenging time for you and not helped by some of the kind of behaviours that have been shown towards the ambulance people.

“It just seems to have got worse during this period of time which is unbelievable.

“Well done for keeping going and doing what you’ve done because you seem to have met the challenge really well.”