London Ambulance crews have become the first in the UK to be provided with DNA “spit kits” after a rise in assaults on front-line medics.
The kits — which include a swab and test tube — are being carried on every ambulance and fast-response car, and will enable saliva to be gathered for matching against police records.
There were 456 assaults on LAS crews last year, up 16 per cent on the previous year. About 50 incidents involved spitting. LAS chiefs hope the initiative will lead to an increase in prosecutions.
Paramedic Andy Whitehouse, 26, was the victim of a spitting attack last summer when he was called to a woman in Hackney who claimed to be having a seizure.
He said: “When I arrived she was on the floor but not fitting. I assessed her and treated her and waited for an ambulance to arrive. At the point the ambulance turned up, I told her, ‘It’s time to get you in the back of the ambulance and off to hospital.’ She stood up and turned round and spat in my face and said, ‘This is what I think of you lot.’ It was difficult to remain professional. Luckily, a passing police car stopped.”
The woman was arrested and charged but disappeared after a court hearing. A warrant is out for her re-arrest.
The kits, developed with the help of the Metropolitan Police, are being rolled out after a pilot scheme last year. The samples can also be tested for disease.
Spit kits were introduced on the Tube in 2003 and were credited with a 75 per cent drop in attacks on staff. They were issued to bus drivers in 2008. Supporting the kits, Mr Whitehouse said: “Anything that increases our chances of prosecuting people who commit this kind of revolting act is welcome.”
LAS assistant director of operations Ian Johns said staff should not be expected to tolerate such abuse.