Earlier this week I was contacted by The Mail on Sunday and offered an opportunity to raise awareness on a national platform of my concerns about the ambulance service cuts. For some time, The Mail has been campaigning against A&E closures around the country and was interested in the impact the cuts were having on the ambulance service. It goes without saying that the simultaneous depletion of two key emergency services are linked.
Presented with the opportunity to write in a national newspaper, I was conflicted. I wrestled with my conscience - was it the right thing to do? Would giving account of my morale and health-destroying experiences and the tremendous pressure my former colleagues continue to face be constructive and lead to a better ambulance service for patients and staff? I know many ambulance personnel would have come forward already, but for fear of their jobs. Because of my back injury, as of August this year I am no longer employed, so there is no such fear remaining for me. My attempts earlier in the week to appeal to the EEAST chief executive, Hayden Newton, had seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps this is the last service I can do for my former colleagues.
I had to try.
After speaking with the journalist covering the case and discussing the broader issues, I wrote and submitted an outline of the article I felt would make best use of this opportunity. However, David - the experienced journalist - pointed out that I was trying to squeeze in too much. My outline would have better suited a book. I knew he was right and I set to work on writing something with a more narrow focus that would highlight the plight of today's emergency medical services without delving into the history of the NHS and into the causes of every problem and idiosyncrasy.
Over the next few days, I wrote a piece that I felt best showcased the intolerable pressures UK ambulance staff are under and how that related to A&E closures. Given the 1400 word restriction it was a challenge to convey the current situation and paint a picture of the future in the face of organisational changes due to budget cuts. I also looked into an ambulance attendance to a 71 year-old female suffering an acute allergic reaction which threatened her breathing and requested some information from the EEAST regarding why the response took nearly an hour. I spoke with EEAST Associate Director of Communications & Engagement, Chris Hartley, and we talked about incoming changes to ambulance deployment and the impact that might have on patient care and crew morale.
I've seen this morning's Mail on Sunday and I am cautiously happy with my contribution – it has been quite heavily edited from my original submission, but I feel it still gets across much of the current issue without drowning the reader in detail. It covers information pursuant to the Mail on Sunday's focus on A&E closures and I hope gives an idea of how close to breaking point I believe road crews are. You can read the full feature online here.
I am a little disappointed at the dilution of my concerns about the pressure of ambulance crews - whilst some references remain, my emphasis on the levels of fatigue and the relentless conditions has been diminished in favour of the A&E closure perspective. I also hope the editor's addition of the word “idle” in reference the sentence about crews waiting at hospitals doesn't give the wrong impression; “...crews stand idle in corridors, their patients still on trolleys.” They're not idle, they are still looking after the patient. The need to trim words has also made the example attendance a little hard to understand – it no longer entirely makes sense, although I think readers will still get the gist.
Sadly, for the sake of brevity, some things couldn't make it into the final piece; including my coverage of the North Norfolk Act On Ambulance campaign, a discussion about the potential impact of dynamic deployment and rota changes and the example attendance I mentioned earlier. Perhaps they will make it into a separate story at a later point. Hayden Newton's thoughts on overworked crews and the part the EEAST Board play in reshaping the East of England service will also have to wait for a later opportunity to to be discussed. I intend to focus on all of these issues here on The Broken Paramedic anyway, so it's not a complete loss.
I feel the many elements that never made it to print are key to the ongoing discussion and I'm keen for further opportunity to push related issues into the limelight. I'll keep trying. It is my hope that this article might at least get the ball rolling on a national conversation about the perilous precipice our emergency healthcare system is teetering atop and how the general public have to play a bigger role in the future of the nation's health in order to prevent disaster.
There is no point in foot-stamping, demanding something should be done then waiting for someone else to do it. Everybody needs to step up. This video highlights why: