DURING the pandemic we relied more than ever on our dedicated and valued emergency service workers to help us when we needed it most.

Whether it was the police, the fire service, or our tireless NHS workers on the frontline of A&E - they all rose to the challenge and supported us during the most difficult times for our community.

Yet during that time, we also saw a rise in assaults against our frontline emergency staff, each one of whom has the right to work without any fear of attack and it’s why, today, I’m using my column to reaffirm my support for them and make the case for stronger deterrents to keep them safe.

The figures speak for themselves: last year there were 7,858 instances of assault against emergency workers in Scotland, an alarming increase of 21 per cent since 2012. The Scottish Ambulance Service have also reported that over the twelve months to May 2022, there were 313 reported verbal and physical assaults on our staff. Verbal assault too is unacceptable and needs to be called out whenever it occurs.

This is not a party-political call, or a point scoring mission, but rather an appeal to do more to protect those on the frontline of our public services who frankly deserve that additional protection in their already-stressful jobs.

This is why I’m calling on the Scottish Government to support the rollout of body cameras for all frontline police officers who want them and to double the maximum sentence for assaulting emergency workers from one year to two years.

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Whilst there is no silver bullet, these proposals will certainly make many potential attackers think twice.

But this issue does not just start and end with harsher punishments for those who commit these vile acts. Rather we can also tackle this issue through early intervention in schools and communities. We need to make it a priority now to foster healthy and positive relationships between emergency workers, such as the police, and local communities and I’m encouraged by the fact that our police across North Ayrshire regularly engage with schools at a number of different levels.

Division is present in much of our politics today but there are some key issues that unite us, such as our admiration for our emergency services.

This is not a party-political issue nor an attempt to call out any failure of policy.

Rather it is an urgent request to recognise that this increase in assaults is a problem, and it’s an issue we can do something about.

If you are an emergency worker, support is also widely available from a range of organisations.

This includes mental health charity Mind’s ‘Blue Light Hub’ which offers specialist information and advice to emergency workers, a monthly newsletter with tips and firsthand stories, and a dedicated hotline for those suffering mental health issues more generally (0300 123 3393).

Twenty-four hour support for frontline workers specifically is also available at 0300 303 4434, from the charity ‘Mental Health at Work’.