Firstly, an apology. I appreciate that this blog has been a little too quiet of late. As I explained in a comment on the previous article, although I remain as passionate as ever about the struggling UK Ambulance Services, no longer being employed by them means I have other responsibilities to which I must attend. However I will take the opportunity to keep getting the message out when I can. After all, my family will suffer as much as anyone's if local ambulance services continue to circle the drain.
To that end, I've just spent the afternoon with BBC Look East's Nikki Fox, where we discussed many of the issues already covered elsewhere on this site. The footage is not for any particular feature, but on a number of occasions when stories have broken in the East Anglia region, Nikki had approached me for an interview, but it was often difficult to fit in during the time-frame before the story aired. At least this way, they've got something “in the can” for any future coverage. Further interviews are a possibility, should the need arise.
Not being particularly media-savvy, it was a challenge covering the key issues succinctly and accessibly, but I hope at least some of the footage will be of use and the general message is clear. We talked about the unsustainable pressure on crews, the policy of attempting to have just enough resources to cover probable demand and the misguided target-obsessed culture behind the scenes. We touched on the demands made by the public and other services, such as the police and GPs.
We also discussed what possible effect the recently announced “independent senior ambulance clinician” may have in conducting a review of EEAST's Norfolk operations. In my opinion, it just feels like a PR stunt to “restore confidence” and I cannot see how a single individual can reverse the fortunes of the ailing service unless he's bringing with him a fleet of crewed ambulances and a suitcase of £50m. However, if this individual can effect a cultural change, then maybe - eventually - there is some hope to be found.
On Effecting Change
Of course, a lengthy inquiry will make no difference this winter as under-resourced crews continue to get brutalised attempting to deal with the hypothermic elderly, increasing road accidents and the many other pressures that further challenge the ambulance service during this inclement period. But, come spring, at least the EEAST Board will have a nice document to show off which will probably say that they're doing quite well all things considered, irrespective of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps I'm being a little cynical and I should give the process a chance. Therein lies part of the reason this blog fell quiet for a time. The failures of the ambulance service are a very emotive topic and, despite my best intentions to remain neutral and even-handed as stated in my Mission Statement, I found a degree of impassioned anger to be creeping into my writing. Apportioning blame and creating scapegoats will not solve anything, but I succumbed to exactly that, so I walked away to reflect and cool off.
I'm grateful for the sheer volume of open opinion found in the comments sections of articles throughout this blog and the advice and feedback I've received from many former colleagues has been invaluable and influential. I really feel for the crews still being abused out on the road, I completely empathise with them and I want to help, however it is a difficult task to discuss the issues openly and honestly without a degree of emotional involvement. As an experienced paramedic, I know things aren't going wrong, they've already gone wrong and, frustratingly, there is no solution in sight. Certainly not from one man and his independent review.
Writing this blog is a burden which has weighed heavily on me. But the truth is, I am no longer central to the fight. It's not through choice, but I'm watching from the sidelines now. I'm not sure I am in a position to do any more than I already have, no matter how much I might want to. The changes need to come from within the government and the ambulance service itself. It is quite clear to me that fundamental cultural changes need to take place, both within ambulance organisations and from the society in general, for ambulance services to return to being as effective as it should be.
EEAST staff need to make sure this Mystery Inquiry Man has the full facts at his disposal. They mustn't hold back and let The Board make out it's just a Norfolk problem - the entire EEAST service is failing and other regions throughout the UK are likely little better. But that's the Mystery Inquiry Man's burden now and he needs to deal with it appropriately and not paper over the cracks once again. The opportunity is there to plant the seeds for a future service that looks after its staff so they in turn can look after the patients. That way lies a successful, effective service, not squeezing diminishing resources in the vain hope of better results.
I will endeavour to continue delivering what support I can and I hope that more people will step up to champion the cause. I'm grateful that Nikki Fox and other media professionals I have been in touch with are aware of the issues, but they can only report it to the public if they hear about it. It is this communication and coverage that has pressurised EEAST to take a long hard look at itself. The opportunity for change may be within grasp, but not if the people who know the truth fall silent now.