Ambulance Watch: A night out with a Norfolk ambulance crew

Reporter Adam Gretton, centre, ready to go out from the Longwater Ambulance Station with the ambulan

Reporter Adam Gretton, centre, ready to go out from the Longwater Ambulance Station with the ambulance crew, paramedic Elaine French, and student paramedic, Kris Apps. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2013

They are the lifesavers that work 24/7 who will rush to our side if we need emergency help this festive period.

With warnings that this winter will put the NHS under huge strain and predictions of a busy start to the holiday season, I joined the crew of an ambulance based at Longwater in Costessey to experience a nine hour night shift on Thursday.

I tagged along with paramedic Elaine French and student paramedic Kris Apps on what was supposed to be a shift covering the Norwich area.

I soon discovered that there is no such thing as a typical shift when it comes to the ambulance service.

The shift began at 7pm with the two paramedics double checking the drug supplies and medical equipment in the double staffed ambulance (DSA).

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Just as the tea was being poured in the waiting room, they got their first call-out at 7.27pm to an elderly man at a New Buckenham care home who was feeling unwell.

On arrival, the paramedic's tested the patient's blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and oxygen levels and were worried that he was suffering from potential blood poisoning and needed hospital treatment.

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Calls to the elderly form the majority of front-line ambulance call-outs, the paramedics told me as we took the New Buckenham patient to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The next call was not so common.

After leaving the elderly patient with a nurse at the new Immediate Assessment Unit at the hospital's A&E, the paramedics were informed that they would be transferring a nine-year-old from the N&N to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

The boy, who suffered burns after falling into a bonfire at about 6pm on Thursday, needed specialist treatment at the Essex hospital's children's burns unit.

For Elaine, who has worked for the East of England Ambulance Service for the last six months, it was her first patient transfer to Broomfield. The medic, who qualified 18 months ago with the South East Coast Ambulance Service, is one of the 47 paramedics that have joined the trust this year.

She added that this was not a typical late shift.

'It is completely unpredictable. Last Friday was supposed to be the big party night and it was one of the quietest shifts I've worked.'

'It is the best job in the world and I would not dream of doing anything else. If you get a crew mate you can have a laugh with, you wonder why you are getting paid. I love it,' she said.

The transfer of the patient, who was in a stable condition and in good spirits, took up around half of the nine hour shift. But there was still time for one last call as we headed up the A11 towards Norwich at 2.18am.

The paramedics were alerted to an urgent call to an elderly patient who was struggling to breathe in Watton. At 2.34pm, we arrived at his home, but spent a few minutes outside whilst we tried to find a key to get inside his locked home.

On the drive to hospital, Kris, who is coming up to his fifth year in training, told me he hopes to qualify as a paramedic in 2014 after his training was delayed by the NHS trust. He said that 80pc of his shifts unsually involve him being the most senior member of staff on an ambulance. He added that an average shift on a DSA usually involved seeing around six patients.

'There is poor public understanding of what is in our remit and what we are trained to do. A lot of our work is assessment and referral rather than treatment. People think that we can fix them there and then and think we can give them the antibiotics to make them better,' he said.

The night shift turned out to be a pretty quiet nine hours on the evening that dozens of ambulance crews in London were called to the aftermath of the ceiling collapsing at the Apollo Theatre.

There have been many negative headlines about the management of the East of England Ambulance Service this year, but there is no questioning the dedication of the committed front-line staff who work under intense pressure and all conditions.

What I learned from the experience:

• The ambulance service needs new vehicles - the ambulance we were travelling was a big of a bone shaker and the satellite navigation system looked outdated.

• Ambulance handover delays at the N&N have been greatly reduced. - A new immediate assessment unit has sped up patient handovers.

• A Norwich-based ambulance does not necessarily stay in Norfolk - crews could get called out to anywhere in the region.

• Staff never misuse blue lights - if a job is not classed as an emergency, drivers are not allowed to break the speed limit or put their blue lights on.

• Front-line staff are heroes and we need more of them - the dedicated paramedics work unsociable hours to save lives and demonstrate compassion and treat patients with dignity and respect 24/7.

Have you got a story about the ambulance service? Contact Adam Gretton on 01603 772419 or email

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