Helen Morgan: 12 hours with an ambulance crew

It’s midday on a wet and windy Friday afternoon. Normally I’d be in a village hall for a surgery with constituents. Instead, I’m hurtling down an A-road being deafened by a siren in the back of an ambulance.

I’m with paramedics Steve and Julie and we’re responding to the first call of our 12-hour shift. It’s only minutes since we clocked on but the elderly lady in need of help has been waiting more than three hours. She’s got Covid symptoms and chest problems making her a category two call with a target response time of 18 minutes.

Indeed, by the time we pack up just before 1am we’ve been to four category two calls, all of which had been waiting at least two hours, and one category three with a 12-hour delay.

All of our response times are around 10 times longer than the target and today is a ‘good’ day by recent standards in Shropshire.

Thankfully, delayed as it is, the help is of the highest possible standard. Calm, kind and technically excellent, Steve and Julie are masters of putting their patients at ease while administering the care they need. But this care only arrives after painfully long waits.

Our first call dealt with, the blue lights are straight back on and we’re on our way to a boy with a dislocated knee. He’s spent three hours in excruciating pain with his patella out of place. Morphine is needed but because he’s been waiting in the cold for so long it’s impossible to find a vein and gas and air has be used before he’s taken to hospital. Yet another patient forced to suffer because of system-wide delays.

Shropshire Star 11 October 2022

The failing system is clear to everyone at A&E. Eight ambulances are queueing outside (remember, it’s a ‘good’ day) and staff are working at pace to help everyone possible. Up the road in Staffordshire and the situation is much worse, with hundreds of calls outstanding.

Ambulance parked, the first stop is with a paramedic on shift at the hospital who triages the patients. Some are handed straight to hospital staff, others are monitored by paramedics in A&E and the rest are sent back to the ambulance to wait. We’re fortunate and can get straight back on the road but others spend most of their shift at hospital.

Watching them work, it strikes me how a paramedic’s job is no longer just about being a medic. The highly trained staff are also porters, cleaners, carers, admin assistants, pharmacists and mental health support workers. Seeing how they remain calm while juggling so many jobs is highly impressive.

One of the perks of being an MP is meeting exceptional people every week and each paramedic I meet on my shift falls into this category.

This is what makes the wider failure of the health service so frustrating. Every day tens of thousands of committed professionals are working their socks off to help people but every day they are let down by a system under enormous pressure – a system suffering from a decade of neglect by the Conservative government.

Medic after medic tells me that the solution starts with social care. While hospital beds continue to be blocked by medically fit patients in need of discharge, ambulances will continue to queue and patients like our poor young dislocation sufferer will continue to wait.

Others will make their own way to hospital, like the young crash victim who arrives next to us at A&E after deciding the risk of moving his broken leg is lower than the risk of waiting for help to arrive.

Just two years ago a three-hour delay for an ambulance would have been a national scandal but now it is the norm. Yet none of the patients we reach are upset – instead they accept that being forced to wait in pain is all part of the new normal. That this does not make people angry is both a compliment to the paramedics’ ability to act effectively when they do arrive and a sad reflection on the low standards we have come to accept.

It’s not fair on patients and it’s not fair on paramedics who have to confront delays they are not responsible for.

Six hours in and it’s time for a break but a category one call comes in just after the Deliveroo order has been placed (the driver is understanding and reroutes to hospital). We’re 20 minutes away but are still the closest available crew so the siren is switched on and the foot is put down. Thankfully our patient survives and benefits from fantastic care from two experienced paramedics. But this isn’t always the case. Many patients are dying waiting for ambulances to arrive and many more are deteriorating during the wait.

* Helen Morgan is Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire

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6 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Oct '22 - 5:28pm

    Excellent pice from Helen Morgan.

    The problems are wider and far more deep than just the usual rightful blaming of the Tories.

    We underfund but we mismanage. How much of the substance of money, huge levels, from Labour, went into the front line?

    Way too much criticism of only govt funding, not nearly as much on how the NHS is run and functioning, unable to stream,line and connect and the service is always in need.

    No country in Europe or the advanced Commonwealth have such issues as we do. Many spend more, some about the level of us. But all healthcare services that are successful have a simpler and responsive and accountable structure and service who are popular with patients.

    I attended meetings galore years ago on improving NHS care, my wife as a result of a car accident, and I, experienced terrible care.

    Three cheers for these staff in the article. Let down by the government and their own employers the NHS.

  • I was thrilled when Helen was first elected, but if honest I thought her win was symbolic for the party and was doubtful that she’d be able to hang onto the seat at the next election. But with each passing week I become more optimistic as I see her getting stuck into the work and being a brilliant representative for her constituency.

    There’s always a risk of giving too much weight to the views of those in the bubble, and it’s inevitable Helen has a higher proportion of LD followers on twitter than most of our MPs, but from what I can tell she has opened the eyes of many in her constituency to what a decent MP can be and I think they’ll want to keep her.

    Once again Helen is doing great work, not just for her constituents, but for everyone in the area and across the country who shouldn’t have to put up with such terrible service.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Oct '22 - 9:32am

    It is important that politics is not the only driving force.
    There are many problems with the NHS and other Public Services. There can’t be constant underfunding and not enough staff before cracks will soon become apparent.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Oct ’22 – 5:28pm
    No country in Europe or the advanced Commonwealth have such issues as we do.

    Health services in many advanced countries are experiencing similar record demand…

    ‘Ambulance ramping at record high in WA amid dire health staff shortage, but authorities say COVID peak has passed’ [July 2022]:
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-07-29/ambulance-ramping-at-record-high-wa-amid-health-staff-shortage/101281710

    The impact of those ambulances sitting idle also played out in the service’s response times.

    This report from Israel may provide a clue as to one reason…

    ‘Israeli researcher: 25% increase in cardiac arrests, related emergency calls by young adults following COVID-19 vaccine rollout’ [June 2022]:

    …similar increases in cardiac-related EMS calls have been found in Scotland, the United Kingdom and Germany.

    ‘One Doctor’s View from a UK Emergency Department’ [October 2022]:
    https://www.hartgroup.org/view-from-a-uk-emergency-department/

    …it has been many years since I have seen this number of patients with heart attacks and strokes. The timing of the uptick has coincided with the vaccination programmes. […] There are too many professional and amateur athletes now getting acute myocardial damage post-inoculation for it to be a complete coincidence. And it seems to be an effect unfortunately that can persist for many months after the injection. We are allowed to talk openly about the consequences of lockdown on health but not about potential consequences of the vaccines.

  • David Evans 14th Oct '22 - 8:24am

    Jeff, interesting, but I think you know that these are not the sort of issues that Lorenzo was referring to.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Oct '22 - 6:39pm

    That is very good reasearcg Jeff, an issue I also reckon eevery Liberal Democrat could be open minded about, the effects of medicines or vaccination on individuals, ie no one size fits all. Instead the party spokespeople are too oriented towards science good no matter the consequences. There is no way our party ought to be only pro vaccines because we are rightly pro them when they are effective. So too we ought not be anti vaccines, but must see that vaccine effects can be awful too for someone who shares that story and must be listened to.

    But David Evans here as often, correct, this was not my criticism above, I am here particularly raising an issue of great nterest= why other countries utilise all health services better and simpler and leaner than us, getting far healthier populations as a result.

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