Hazel McHaffie

Ambulance service

On the frontline

I wonder how you react when you hear, over and over again, tales of delays in response to 999 calls, or ambulances queued up outside A&E departments waiting hours to deliver patients, or endless waits on trolleys to be seen by a doctor. Or when you hear of healthcare staff driven to despair by their inability to do their jobs – leaving the profession; even taking their own lives.

Having been on both ends of such emergencies, as NHS professional and as patient, my heart goes out to them all.

Listening to a recording on the main BBC news last week of a nurse in a Casualty department speaking over the tannoy, advising everyone that there was currently a seven and a half hour wait to be assessed by a medical person; there were 170 patients in the department, 90 of whom were still waiting to see a doctor; and by the time she went off duty the following morning many of the folk she was speaking to would still be there, made me think of the books on my shelves written by those who rush to the aid of people in dire straits. People like London paramedic, Stuart Gray: Life and Death on the Streets. Or Tom Reynolds (aka Brian Kellett), an Emergency Medical Technician, also based in London: Blood Sweat + Tea and More Blood, More Sweat + Another Cup of Tea

Unsanitised and brutally honest, not refined by a professional scribe, these stories don’t flinch from the hard reality of life on the streets; the abuse, the time-wasters, the heartbreak, the futility. But they also share the miracles that can be wrought which save lives and mend broken people. And those troubling cases where they save the life of a seriously ill patient, only to wonder if they’ve committed them and the family to a fate worse than death. Such cases I was involved in fifty years ago haunt me personally to this day.

Dipping again into their recollections and cases was a salutary reminder of the price these people and their like pay to keep us safe, and give us a sporting chance when an emergency fells us.

Reading again about their emotional connection with those they meet and care for, their fury with those who prevent them doing what they do best, took me a little way into the lives of those who are currently facing the worst conditions our NHS has known, the frustrations, the impotence that they must endure because the system is broken. Both these authors were at some point Fast Responders who go out alone in cars to the sickest patients, and their descriptions of waiting, waiting, waiting for an ambulance to arrive vividly capture the practical consequences of inadequate provision.

It’s only a matter of time before I have someone die in front of me while waiting for an ambulance.

And as if all that were not enough, carrying the burden of having complaints made against them, an occupational hazard with which they are all too familiar.

When these books were written (2007-2009) somewhere in the region of 4000 calls over 24 hours were received in their jurisdictions (more during a heatwave or a bank holiday weekend); around ten ambulance crews were assaulted each night. What?! Blows the mind, doesn’t it?

Whilst the writing of these books might not inspire me, the men behind it do. I would want people just like them to come to my aid if I were in trouble. Simply caring, genuinely caring, makes the world a better place. A massive thank you to them all.



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