It is painfully evident from the outcry caused by the case of Edmund Daly, a beleaguered paramedic who could take no more and was thrown to the wolves for it, that things are horribly wrong within the practise of emergency pre-hospital care.
After reading about the case on various news outlets and offering an alternative (read: more accurate) interpretation of proceedings, I was taken aback by the response. My blogpost has, at time of writing, been viewed nearly 80,000 times and the discussion has reached in excess of 150,000 people across various social media. As I result, I was given the opportunity to write a more sympathetic view for Metro.
Concurrently, similarly concerned paramedic Annelies van Wamel working in another Ambulance Trust, instigated an online petition entitled, 'HCPC this time you got it wrong!', in which she identifies,
'The HCPC is there to protect the public against malpractice. That is good. However, the HCPC did not realize and/or recognize that this paramedic was not the problem; it was his employer who disregarded staff welfare in its pursuit of targets. The blatant lack of support for a senior member of operational staff is an indication of the real problem and should be taken into account.'
In less than two days, her initial target was far exceeded and she closed the petition at 2,000 signatures. I have no doubt it would have accrued many more had she let it run.
Quite clearly, the response from both ambulance clinicians and the general public shows that we were not alone in our concerns.
A Dangerous Precedent
Chief among these issues is the fact that Daly’s case sends a clear message to all operational personnel that their health and 'fitness to practise' is a secondary concern to the employing ambulance trust's ability to meet targets. The HCPC can be used by employers as a blunt instrument to fuel a culture of fear which leaves individual staff, already expected to do the work of many, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea.
There are urgent questions that need an answer: where would paramedics stand if they were NOT to indicate their limits? That would lead to unsafe, irresponsible and even illegal situations with potentially far worse consequences for staff, patients and the general public (think of driving while exhausted).
Where should clinicians turn if they feel they are being abused? The London Ambulance Service chose to 'make an example' of Edmund Daly and sack him after an internal investigation, so clearly LAS staff can expect no support from their employer. The HCPC chose to pile on and point the finger of blame at Daly rather than the organisation who pushed him off the cliff. Union involvement in proceedings evidently made little difference to the outcome.
Year on year, staff have to listen to promises that things will improve as new recruits are pumped into the meat grinder, all the while more and more staff are leaving, voluntarily or otherwise. The daily reality is that, in the current environment, many staff - new or old - will only last a short while before they are also broken by a system more willing to replace them than ensure that they are fit to continue.
This has to end.
Helping Ourselves to Help Everyone Else
Annelies and I have spoken at length to discuss what next steps to take. We have resolved to push back in the hope that we can change this poisonous culture. We're hoping for your support and input.
We will be contacting the College of Paramedics for their advice and guidance and we will be taking the 2,000 signature petition to the HCPC headquarters in London prior to the end of their consultation period on 'revised Standards of conduct, performance and ethics' (period ends 26th June 2015). The precise date of our visit is yet to be decided, but your involvement and attendance would be most welcome.
We are determined to create a better working culture for front line clinicians and the staff who support them.
There is no reason for this to even be a debate. There is no one who benefits from the current situation; not the operational staff, not the ambulance trusts, not regulatory bodies, not the Department of Health and certainly not the patients.
There should be no debate. But sadly there has to be to effect a positive change.
The time for suffering in silence is over.
Co-written by Mathew Westhorpe & Annelies van Wamel
We can be contacted via the Broken Paramedic Facebook page or at m[underscore]westhorpe[at]hotmail[dot]com.