Grantham Journal special report: What’s really going on with our ambulances?
In my role as a reporter, I often speak to members of the public who have had to endure long waits for an ambulance.
Desperate for answers and concerned for what it means for the future, they often turn to the Journal to see if we can find out why the public are being subjected to such lengthy delays in this day and age.
I wanted to meet the people behind our region’s ambulance service to see first hand the pressures they face on a daily basis while working on the front line. So I jumped at the opportunity to spend the day with one of the EMAS crews on Friday.
Pulling up at Grantham Ambulance Station on Beacon Lane at the crack of dawn, I was greeted by my hosts for the day, paramedic Sharne Bailey and emergency care assistant Peter Brown.
Each day, two double-crewed ambulances and one fast response car from Grantham helps provide emergency 999, urgent care and patient transport services for the 4.8 million people within Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire.
After a quick introduction, the crew prepared the ambulance for the day ahead. No sooner had they finished, then the first call came in.
An elderly woman had fallen at home and couldn’t get up. It was classed as a C3 ‘urgent’ call, which means that if a more pressing job came in – a C1 for life-threatening or a C2 for emergency– then Sharne and Peter would be rerouted.
Arriving at the house, we found a woman in her late sixties on her knees. Her husband told us that she had been like it for an hour. He had tried to lift her but being frail himself, he was unable to.
He explained that she was suffering from Parkinson’s, but he was reluctant to accept any type of care package, as he felt that he could manage himself.
After helping the woman on to the sofa, Sharne and Peter checked her over. Their compassion for not only their patient but her husband too was clear to see. Sharne said: “We are there to reassure the public. If that means attending the same job four times a day, then we will.”
After making sure the couple were settled, they left... just as another C3 call came in.
This time a female in her thirties had fainted. She was breathing, so it was not a priority call.
Peter added: “Sometimes we have been yards from a job and been taken off it to attend a more urgent incident.”
After arriving, we quickly realised that the woman spoke little English, therefore her teenage daughter acted as her translator.
Peter added: “It is becoming more common for us to attend jobs where the parents rely on their children to translate for them as they find it easier to understand our accents, as they attend an English school.”
After taking the woman’s vital signs, they discovered that her blood pressure was seriously low and we took her to Grantham Hospital. After a short wait, she was admitted almost straight away.
We were on the way back to base when another call came in. This time it was a job in Bourne. A woman had slipped on the ice while out walking her dog. The fast response car was already on scene but the driver needed the ambulance to transport her to hospital.
After picking her up, Sharne sat with the patient in the back and I got to ride up front with Peter.
Despite only accompanying them on two jobs, I could already see that Peter seemed to have a knack for putting the patients at ease, often making them laugh despite their obvious discomfort.
He is just beginning his fifth year with EMAS after spending 31 years in the RAF, before becoming a first responder with Lincolnshire Emergency Medical Response (LEMR). He credits his calm and light-hearted approach to his military background.
He said: “I have never felt threatened on a job although we sometimes get told to stand off until the police arrive. Other road users are a challenge as many are unsure what to do when they see us.”
As one of the designated drivers, Peter is often required to drive 200 miles a day.
He added: “It is my responsibility to support my clinicians. If they are having a bad time, I’ll give them a shoulder to lean on. We are a team but you have to have a sense of humour to do this job. People react differently to stressful situations. My drive home is my decompression.”
Arriving at Peterborough City Hospital, we realise that we were going to be in for a long wait as we take our position behind nine other ambulances already in the queue.
Sharne added: “We were in a queue of 17 ambulances at Peterborough yesterday, so we know what to expect.”
Due to continuity of care, the crews are responsible for staying with their patients until they can officially hand them over to hospital staff.
Taking up our position in the hospital corridor behind several other crews and patients, the situation looked bleak.
Sharne added: “I am so passionate about what I do that it frustrates me that the public might assume that delays are due to us being on a break but the reality is right here in this corridor.”
Two hours after arriving, we finally hand our patient over to the hospital staff at 1pm. With my stomach rumbling, I wondered whether we would be on our way back to base for our allocated meal break. But no sooner had I thought about it, we were off to another call-out. This time, it was a C1 call, so we had no time to hang about and the blue lights were switched on for the first time that day.
An elderly lady at a care home in Spalding was reported to be not breathing and despite being in Peterborough, we were the nearest available resource.
Upon arriving 30 minutes later, we found a woman in her nineties in bed. Her care assistant said that she had been unconcious for five minutes.
Although she was awake and alert by the time we reached her, she needed to go to hospital.
On the drive to hospital, Sharne explained that over 50 per cent of call outs are regarding elderly people.
She said: “The popluation are getting older and living longer, but it doesn’t mean they should be treated any differently. I treat everyone how I’d treat my own family.”
There were a number of ambulances already in the queue when we arrived at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital and we were asked to remain on the ambulance.
Sharne added: “This is becoming the norm but it has got busier over the last few years.
“I always wanted to become a paramedic but had to get a ‘real job’ in order to pay the bills. But I eventually took the plunge and became a student paramedic at Sheffield Hallam University and have never looked back.
“Everyday is completely different. I love the fact that when I log in, I don’t know what is in store for the day ahead. I am proud to put on my uniform each day.
“We have got busier since the introduction of 111, the NHS non-emergency number. They should be acting as a triage service but as they work off a script, we are often called out to jobs that we wouldn’t normally need to attend.”
It can take its toll emotionally too.
Sharne added: “We all know what each other goes through. We are like a big family as no one else gets it. There have been a few jobs that have affected me but we get looked after and we rely on each other for support.”
When we finally make it into the corridor at Boston Hospital, we hand our patient over at 5pm. Ten hours after starting the shift, we finally stop off at a petrol station to grab a quick sandwich.
Sharne added: “We rarely finish on time. You learn to go to the loo when you can and to eat when you can. I’d rather be helping a patient.”
After a 12-hour day, I know that I haven’t even scraped the surface of what the crew faces on a daily basis. What it has given me though is an insight into how dedicated the crews are and the compassion they have for each and every patient.
After a long day, I get to go home and rest and think about the day. As for my temporary colleagues, I left them waiting to see where they would be off to next.