In my ongoing efforts to banish the veil of misinformation that confounds the general public when it comes to their local Ambulance Service, I was recently given the opportunity to write a piece for the Welwyn Hatfield Times. Sadly, for space reasons, they were unable to fit it in. They did quote me, although those quotes did not come from my submission. It is possible they were alluding to something I said on the phone, but I'm not entirely comfortable with the tone of the quotes and I'm disappointed with myself if I ever used the word "speedy" (unless I was talking about a Mexican cartoon mouse).
I certainly did not intend for ambulance crews to sound like they're a liability - only to underline that the constantly exhausted and overworked road staff would be less capable and less efficient. From personal experience I'm pretty sure I was of fairly sound mind for the first 8 or 9 hours of a non-stop shift. It was only after that things would start to get woolly.
In any case, the Welwyn Hatfield Times are at least getting the message out to the public that things are not in good shape. I hope they can step up their focus in the manner the Eastern Daily Press has. The EDP has been providing almost daily coverage of local ambulance issues and have been really getting the drains up on East of England Ambulance Service, setting up a survey, gathering patient accounts and reporting ongoing issues. I appreciate that they are a regional newspaper with far greater resources, but I'm really impressed with the way that Kim Briscoe and her colleagues are attacking the issue. It's certainly having some impact. I hope more local journalists take up the cause.
For clarity, below is the final submission I sent to the Welwyn Hatfield Times and the message I believe that local residents need to hear.
No Ambulances to Send
I am a local paramedic with 12 years experience and I am sorry to say that your ambulance service is failing. Despite the current inability of the ambulance service to cope with the volume of emergency calls, new proposals will see a further reduction in available ambulances. The plans will reduce the number of ambulances at Welwyn Garden City, Hertford and Cheshunt. Potters Bar will have no ambulance cover after 2am.
With the effective closure of the A&E department at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, the need to transport patients to more distant hospitals will leave few, if any ambulances available nearby.
In an effort to protect response time targets, ambulance chiefs have decided to increase the number of ambulance cars, which were originally intended to support ambulances, not replace them. This practice sees lone-response paramedics stranded on scene along with potentially critical patients. Even before the cutbacks, these scenarios are already occurring too frequently, with desperate requests for ambulance backup from the single responder being met with “Sorry, we have no ambulances to send.”
In some cases, single response paramedics have had to resort to transporting seriously ill patients in the car. This is life threateningly dangerous - the patient may deteriorate in transit, yet there is no means for the driver to provide immediate aid. The paramedic is being given no choice, but to continue waiting on scene could have even worse results.
Trust claims that “...there are currently places and times when we have too many vehicles and crews...” are patently untrue and there is overwhelming evidence to to contrary - day and night, every crew and single responder is already working flat-out throughout their shifts. Ambulances are routinely dragged far out of position by the requirement to attend Lister Hospital in Stevenage, or further afield to specialist stroke and cardiac centres. There is no slack to be taken up. To claim otherwise is either delusion or lies.
Ambulance staff pushed beyond safe limits have genuine concerns for their own families who live locally, as well as for the general public. They know how dangerous this situation really is, but are powerless to prevent it. Ambulance bosses attempt to dress up government cuts as "efficiency measures". Front line crews and support teams describe the current situation and future proposals as "horrifying" and "frustrating" and are struggling against overwhelming odds to deliver good care to those in need. But it has become an impossible task.
If those with the power to stop this erosion continue to prioritise money over the welfare of patients and ambulance staff then we should question their motives. The continued sacrifice of health and lives for the sake of targets and a bottom line is immoral.
You have no local A&E services and your ambulance service is being rendered increasingly unable to help. I urge patients and concerned relatives to speak out.
Contact the Welwyn Hatfield Times and tell them of your experiences, write to your MP Grant Schapps, learn when it is necessary to dial 999 and what other services are available for non-emergencies, do everything you can to stop this attack on the services that are there to help you when you really need it. If you don't, the day will come when help is unavailable when you, or someone you care about, desperately needs it.
Your health and lives are at stake. Please don't wait until it is too late.