NHS Strikes – view from the back of an ambulance

It is the season of goodwill, the season of health services being stretched to the limit and this year, the season of strikes, including amongst some of our most dedicated health professionals. Nurses and ambulance crews. The government having applauded nurses, health and care professionals on their doorsteps during the pandemic is spoiling for fight over wage increases. Promising no money.

That is one reason strikers are taking action. The need for some of them to go to food banks. The struggle to pay the rent or mortgage because pay has not caught up with the cost of living.

The other reason is the working conditions. The constant pressure in an understaffed, poorly managed health service. It never copes with demand. It is forever being reorganised but never seems to get out of crisis mode. It never has enough money.

Let me illustrate the issue through the case of Susan. Obviously not her real name.

Two days ago, she had a significant health issue. It was Category 1 incident. Fortunately, she was in a GP surgery at the time and there is nowhere better to initiate a 999 call.

The national standard for states the target ambulance response for Category 1 calls should be seven minutes on average and 90 per cent of Category 1 calls should be responded to in 15 minutes. Susan was lucky. The ambulance came in under an hour. West Midlands Ambulance Service dispatchers had predicted one and half hours. This is rural England and those response times are normal. Susan got a better response time than she and most of us now expect.

Why? It is partly rurality. It is partly because rural ambulance bases have been withdrawn. Most ambulances have to travel 30 miles to get here and of course 30 miles back. And it is mostly because too many ambulances are stuck in queues outside A&E and can’t discharge their patients.

Susan was blue lighted to A&E. In Shropshire, there are no dual carriageways south of Shrewsbury and our main trunk roads are sometimes narrow and weave around. But the ambulance driver gave it everything… Only to get to stuck in the stack.

The queue of ambulances waiting for hours to get their patients admitted to A&E.

Susan is not sure how many hours she was in the stack. Time dissolves when you are in the back of an ambulance, while waiting to be processed into A&E, waiting for triage, and waiting for admission into hospital if needed. Waiting for a hospital bed. Later, waiting for discharge. All you know is that it is a long time.

In the stack, the ambulance was supplied with more mediation and a consultant came to examine Susan in the ambulance.

Susan has nothing but praise for the ambulance and hospital staff. As she stabilised and waited in the back of the ambulance, she chatted to the paramedic.

He described a recent 12-hour shift when they had picked up a man with a dislocated shoulder. The ambulance crew ran out of morphine, gas and air in the stack. The patient was moved to another ambulance when it was freed up from the stack. The whole shift for the paramedic was taken up by one important but not life threatening injury because they were stuck in the stack.

Susan asked about the planned strike.

The paramedic said they were pushed to the absolute limits. At times pushed beyond them.

He was adamant that paramedics would leave the picket line for a Category 1 call during the strike. He was totally dedicated. Totally frustrated. He did not want to strike. But he said this job “is not what I trained for.” Waiting in ambulances for hours. Not being on the road rushing to an incident. Not making the rapid potentially life saving judgements when confronted from everything from a road crash to a heart attack to an infant at the edge of life.

No one wants the strikes. Just about everyone I have spoken to supports them. If we don’t value our health workers and pay them well, we won’t have them. If we fund our health professionals properly more people will be helped back into a healthy and happy life, rather than die or have a reduced quality of life.

It is time to applaud our health and care professionals. And give them the pay and conditions they deserve. It is not time for a fight by politicians strutting to gain a reputation to enhance their careers. It is time to help our essential workers. We clapped them before. We should pay them well now.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Helen Dudden 9th Dec '22 - 8:53am

    We are all in a dire situation s the Scarlet Fever spreads. Lack of care, anyone entering this country should be screened.
    Is it the right thing to do withdrawing heating and food? Will this save the planet?
    As a grandmother I have experienced much in my life. From losing my husband to a drunk driver in his early 30’s. My health issues.
    We need better health care that’s a fact. We also need better housing that could save energy. Horses have heating, so why not children? Horses probably have better health care, but there is a shortage of vet care.
    My daughter has been on the phone, 40£ per week for energy, and she works.
    My daughter does not have proper double glazing.

  • Barry Lofty 9th Dec '22 - 9:41am

    Well said Daisy Cooper! it is perhaps not surprising that the public have lost faith in the quality of our politicians if the example of three gentlemen? sitting a few rows in front of her are anything to go by ,as they could be heard constantly talking to one another during her important account regarding the dire situation the ambulance/nhs staff are facing at this time? Perhaps they had just popped in for their tea break?

  • David Garlick 9th Dec '22 - 2:46pm

    They. like the rest of the NHS, are doing their best.
    We made a 999 call for an ambulance in Northampton two days ago. Paramedic arrived in less than10 minutes and an ambulance very soon afterwards. Excellent responses do still happen if you can time your ill health to a quiet time!

  • We need to talk about the media. Because they identify that as the main source of NHS problems on a nearly daily basis before going on to report almost exclusively on the stress, delays, and other problems this causes the ambulance service.

    That’s fair enough to a point and it’s nicely photogenic for the evening news, but it’s shallow reporting in that it avoids the important story about what’s going wrong in the care sector and hence causing so many of the problems in the first place. Yet, if memory serves, the care sector has been the subject of numerous undelivered manifesto pledges.

    Of course, care work just isn’t so photogenic and moreover would require real reporting, including, for example, digging into complex and opaque financing arrangements designed to enrich hedge funds at public expense.

    I doubt that BBC Governors appointed by the Tories are terribly bothered if reporting is driven more by ease of getting the story than its importance (especially when the important is embarrassing).

    I would like to see Parliament be much clearer that the BBC (and other media) are an integral part of our democracy and be clear that their job is, in large part, to investigate problems and explain their root cause.

    I doubt the blue side of Parliament would take that view but, if done with genuine integrity, a minor party could usefully harass the profiteers and raise the political cost for their enablers.

  • Aaagh! Missed out the line from the article I was picking up on.

    “…too many ambulances are stuck in queues outside A&E…”

  • Neil Sandison 11th Dec '22 - 5:00pm

    My sister spent 12 hours waiting for a West Midlands Ambulance despite having a suspected head injury perhaps the party should be brave enough and recognise the acute shortage of hospital staff is in fact a Windrush moment and we should look to recruit all the staff we can get internationally for the NHS and Social Care.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Peter Martin
    @ Catherine, It's all law not just some law. This is how the EU itself puts it: "The principle of the primacy (also referred to as ‘precedence’ o...
  • James Fowler
    If we make appreciable gains at this election, and it seems that we will, what are we going to do with them? At the moment not being the Tories is enough, b...
  • Martin Gray
    Simple Mick ...You as a British citizen are not allowed to vote in Greece's national elections. Unless that right is reciprocated why would should any Greek n...
  • Mick Taylor
    EU citizens, like me, can vote in local and EU elections in an EU country where they reside, but many are also registered in the UK, where they can vote in all ...
  • David Raw
    @ Gordon. I’m afraid you are very much mistaken if you believe the British government did not confiscate German assets in WW11....