Dozens of front-line ambulance crews are being attacked or verbally abused while trying to do their job.

Figures obtained by The Argus show the pressures and risks regularly faced by paramedics in Sussex.

The Freedom of Information figures revealed 40 reported cases of physical assaults across the county between April 2008 and March this year.

A further 46 crews were exposed to threats, verbal abuse and other aggressive behaviour over the same period.

Unions warned the actual numbers were probably higher because many incidents do not get reported.

The attacks caused a variety of mostly minor injuries including broken bones, cuts, bruises, sprains and strains.

Crews reported being sworn and shouted at on a regular basis from people often drunk or high on drugs.

Clare Stoner, Unison branch secretary for South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said attacks from drunks were common on Friday and Saturday nights She said other cases involved patients with psychiatric problems.

Ms Stoner said: “I know of one case where a paramedic at Horsham was stabbed in the hand with a knife by a psychiatric patient.

“There was also another occasion when a member of a crew was held hostage by a patient.

“There has been a culture in the past that crew members put a lot of incidents and abuse down to being just part of the job but that is not the case.

“We are working with the ambulance service to encourage members to report all incidents so that action can be taken against those responsible if necessary.”

David Dixon, the ambulance service's local security management specialist, said: “The trust has a zero tolerance policy regarding violence and abuse against its staff.

“We believe that violence and abuse should never be perceived as ‘just a part of the job’ and all of our staff, including front-line crews who provide care in emergency situations, deserve the right to serve their local communities in safety and without fear of violence.

“We take a robust approach towards members of the public and patients who commit assaults against staff and, in liaison with the police, seek to prosecute the offender wherever possible and have achieved a number of successful prosecutions.

“Our staff are encouraged to report any incidents of violence or abuse and we work with them to ensure they can provide care in an environment that is safe for them and for patients.”

The trust has specially trained paramedics who work in partnership with police to provide front-line cover for police and public in public order incidents.

They are decked out in a visored helmet, elbow pads, flak jackets and also use a riot shield.

It emerged earlier this month that one paramedic came under fire from anti-capitalists when trying to help an injured policewoman during a demonstration in Brighton on May Day.