WILTSHIRE’S top police officer has said he hopes new laws will help protect his constables from being attacked in the line of duty.

And Great Western Hospital welcomed the new Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which was given royal assent yesterday. It doubles the maximum sentence that can be handed to those who assault 999 and NHS workers.

Those who attack emergency service workers can now expect to spend up to a year in prison.

Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said: “I hope the act will serve as a stronger deterrent, which should lead to a significant reduction in the level of assaults on my staff.

“As a force we are now working on introducing additional measures to ensure that our officers have increased protection and are adequately supported when they become victims themselves.”

Last year, Wiltshire Police recorded 103 assaults on its officers, up from 55 the previous year.

Police and crime commissioner Angus Macpherson said: “I'm pleased the law is starting to recognise the increased risk of working for the emergency services.

“As with any job there are highs and lows, but being injured and abused on duty should not be part and parcel of working for the police.

"It’s paramount the law protects our officers, staff and volunteers whilst they’re protecting us.

"Whilst the police serve our communities to keep them safe that we should do the same in return and recognise the additional risk in their jobs.”

Protections in the new law extend to doctors, nurses and other workers in accident and emergency departments.

At GWH, there were 171 reports of physical and verbal abuse on staff last year. The figure has doubled since 2007/8.

A spokesman for the NHS trust said: “We support any change in the law which treats any attack on our staff with the seriousness it deserves.

“The trust takes the safety of staff, patients and visitors seriously and continues to work in partnership with the police and our own security team.

"In the past year there have been custodial sentences and injunctions, as well as verbal and written warnings, to people whose actions have fallen short of what the trust and police expect from patients and visitors.”

A campaign, called Never OK, highlighted that all forms of abuse are unacceptable.