One senior paramedic working part-time in England explains what it is like working a 12-hour shift in an ambulance.
“Things were OK up until about three months ago. I don’t know what exactly happened, but suddenly waiting times in getting patients admitted to hospital exploded. I think one reason was that social distancing guidelines were introduced in [our local] hospital, so the capacity of patients that could be in A&E at any given time was dramatically reduced. And there is much less care happening in the community now, so there are often no beds.
“I work 12-hour shifts. On my last shift, I only saw two patients because of waiting times. Normally, I see six or seven.
“Recently I dealt with one palliative care patient who was septic. Normally, we’d go straight to the resuscitation department but we had to wait for an hour and a half in the ambulance outside the hospital. An end-of-life patient like this should not be lying on our trolley for so long.
“In another case there was a trauma patient who had to wait for many hours with severe injuries.
“We had a callout for a cardiac arrest, and the closest paramedic was 25 minutes away – a manager in their car, not even an ambulance. Twenty-five minutes is not quick enough to save somebody – we are normally aiming for eight minutes.
“And then there was a paediatric cardiac arrest, and the fire brigade responded and was there for 20 minutes before we got to them. That’s just unacceptable.
“I have been a paramedic for more than 14 years, and I have never known morale to be so low. Many paramedics who were full-time are now going part-time and are putting in applications for flexible working, as they can’t cope otherwise. Shifts are getting longer and longer as we can’t abandon patients who haven’t been admitted, so we work 14 hours most days, not 12. This has a massive effect on the mental health of our workforce.
“It’s also difficult to keep patients happy for so many hours. People don’t get into the ambulance service to sit in the back of ambulances; they want to be out in the community and help people. It’s currently no longer the job they signed up for.
“I absolutely do believe people are already dying because of ambulance delays. If we don’t get to someone elderly after a fall for instance for many hours, they may be dying from the consequences of this fall. Falls are very low on the list in terms of priority, so people may be left lying on the floor for many, many hours.
“Strokes are also one of the big worries. Normally, we’d probably be able to get them in for treatment within an hour and a half. The rule is that a stroke patient needs to be seen within four hours from the onset of symptoms, or they’ve missed the treatment window. This is happening right now. It’s awful.”
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