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‘We are here to help… not to be used as a punchbag’

A FEMALE paramedic who was subjected to a vicious attack inside an ambulance last week has described the terrifying moment she was repeatedly punched in the head.
Anne Marie Fitzgerald has taken sick leave from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) as a result of the incident.
Speaking to the Ulster Herald this week, the Loughmacrory woman said she entered the health service over 30 years ago to help people and not to become “someone’s punchbag.”
The attack followed an incident at a house, after which a man was being conveyed by ambulance to the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.
The paramedics were also accompanied by a member of the PSNI when Mrs Fitzgerald was assaulted in the back of the ambulance.
“We’re easy targets and nobody should have to go through the horrendous experience that I was subjected to,” she said.
Describing the incident, the paramedic explained, “It all happened so suddenly, literally within seconds. Our ambulance had just arrived at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen when the patient turned towards me… I actually realised what was about to happen.
“I received the first blow to my mouth. That caused me to fall back and then he just lunged at me. I automatically tried to cover myself with my arms and hands, but he continued to punch me on the stomach and the back of the head. I received about four to six blows in total.
“I remember letting a shrill out of me for someone to come and help. I was hemmed in, with this man towering over me. The attack was probably over in seconds, but it was just so surreal and frightening.”
Mrs Fitzgerald was eventually able to climb over the stretcher in the ambulance and make her escape, while it took four others – including a policeman – to restrain the man who had attacked her.
She also received stitches and says the experience has left her “shaken.”
“It was fortunate that we were at the hospital because help was available. Things could have been a lot worse if we hadn’t asked the policeman to accompany us on that journey,” she added.
NIAS chief executive, Michael Bloomfield, said the impact of such attacks was totally unacceptable to staff and society in general.
“Once again I appeal that our staff be allowed to do their job without interference of any sort and, for those who do not respect that appeal, I have no hesitation in calling for appropriate action to be taken against perpetrators through the judicial system,” he said.
“I am also concerned about the lasting emotional and psychological impact of these attacks on our staff.
“Physical wounds heal much quicker but we know that the emotional trauma can sometimes remain with our staff for a number of years. They deserve better and we will continue to support them through measures available to us, including immediate management and peer support which will continue for as long as necessary.”
Mrs Fitzgerald is also a Sinn Féin representative on Fermanagh & Omagh District Council.
The incident has been condemned as a “vicious assault” by party colleague, West Tyrone MLA, Catherine Kelly, while Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP MLA, Rosemary Barton, said those responsible must face the full rigour of the law.

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Ulster Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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