‘This isn’t Holby City’ - A look behind the scenes on a shift with an East of England ambulance crew
PUBLISHED: 08:30 24 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:02 24 August 2017
Every day our region’s skilled ambulance crews work under growing pressure. In a two-part special, health correspondent Geraldine Scott joined one crew to find out what a shift looks like for these lifesavers.
A bright Monday morning at 7am and I know where I would rather be - tucked up in my bed.
Instead, I’m reporting to Longwater ambulance station, in Norwich, to spend the day with those who rush to our sides when we need them the most - an East of England Ambulance Service crew.
It was a day which showed that even when under immense pressure, these professionals are at the top of their game.
And as I tagged along with paramedic Paul Seville and emergency medical technician (EMT) Scott O’Sullivan, I would find out the crews never know what to expect from one day to the next.
After a quick tour of the ambulance - it’s surprising how much they can cram into a space less than 6.5m x 2m x 2m - there wasn’t much time for small talk, as we were straight out onto the road, responding to call about an 86-year-old woman who collapsed at a care facility in Norwich.
The first thing I noticed was although filled with urgency, there was no panic - while adrenaline kept me on edge, Paul and Scott were the picture of calm.
“This isn’t Holby City,” Paul, who has been a paramedic for 14 years, later told me as he showed me around the accident and emergency department at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital (NNUH).
Later I asked Scott - who has been in the job for nine years - whether it got his heart pumping.
“You get used to it, you have to,” he said.
Back to our first call and we arrived to find the woman with a carer in the bathroom, where she had blacked out. After checking her over and giving her some oxygen, using the immense amount of kit the pair carried into each call, the woman was helped onto the stretcher and taken to hospital.
Because of other health issues Paul said it was difficult to tell exactly what could have caused her to pass out.
“What happened could have been from anything but we’ve got to treat it as an emergency,” he said.
On the journey to the hospital, Scott turns his attention to an A3 sheet which is filled out for each patient, detailing what had happened. Paperwork, although important, seems to take up a lot of time when their much-needed skills could be elsewhere - on this occasion using the journey to the hospital was possible because the woman was stable. On other calls later in the day, paperwork naturally came second.
After the woman is transferred into the care of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), crews have 15 minutes to be ready to accept new calls. Extra time is given if the ambulance needs to be cleaned, but delays in transferring patients into the hospital or delays in getting away again can mean fines for the ambulance trust.
So it felt like as soon as we had stopped we were back out and soon were rushing on blue lights towards Brundall where a 92-year-old woman was having breathing difficulties. But things can change in the blink of an eye for these crews, and almost instantly a more serious call came in, and we changed direction towards Long Stratton, where someone had an epileptic fit.
The breakneck speeds at which decisions have to be made by the crew are astounding. Paul told me: “Within five to ten seconds of the job coming in you’re thinking ‘Right, how are we going to do this one? What do we need to consider?’”
But no sooner had he started thinking, we were stood down from Long Stratton, and heading back to Brundall.
Heading down the A47 was the first glimpse I got at how many drivers fail to notice an ambulance behind them.
“It’s a four-tonne, green and yellow fluorescent truck, with blue flashing lights and a siren,” Paul said. “I don’t know how some people don’t see us.”
In Brundall, we found a woman who had gone to bed without turning on her oxygen machine - which she had only been using for a week. When she went out to Spain on holiday in November she was not right and had to go into hospital abroad, and then when she got home.
“I don’t want to go back,” she said. But after her doctor said it was important she have a blood test she agreed.
“We’ve got to make sure when we leave the front door, that we are doing so safely,” Paul said. “That they can do most of what they can usually do.”
In this situation, that was not the case, so a trip to hospital was needed.
“You’ve all been lovely, I feel better than I did,” said the woman, after a wait to get into the hospital A&E.
To find out what happened next, pick up tomorrow’s EDP or check back on www.edp24.co.uk