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Never really a quiet moment for frontline staff - even if Christmas celebrations were dampened

PUBLISHED: 15:57 22 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:58 22 December 2018

Left, Jake Mair, associate ambulance practitioner, and paramedic Tom Miller, right. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Left, Jake Mair, associate ambulance practitioner, and paramedic Tom Miller, right. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Geraldine Scott

The rain may have put a dampener on Christmas celebrations, but spending a night shift with an East of England Ambulance crew showed health correspondent Geraldine Scott that there is never a quiet moment for frontline staff.

An East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photo: Geraldine ScottAn East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photo: Geraldine Scott

The final pay day before Christmas combined with the day before a full moon is usually a recipe for too much alcohol and a spike in calls to our emergency services.

But when I spent the night on shift with paramedic Tom Miller and associate ambulance practitioner Jake Mair, it was made clear how this surge in demand could put pressure on calls from others who needed help who were not revelling in a party atmosphere.

Arriving at the East of England Ambulance Trusts’s (EEAST) Longwater depot, in Norwich, I was warned it would likely be a “vomit-y” night. It was what I’d expected.

And Tom said it was after midnight when alcohol-related calls tended to start to appear, as clubs emptied out.

What I hadn’t considered is that the service would still receive the base level of calls it would every other night, and resources sent to deal with those who couldn’t handle their drink could be diverted from any other numbers of incidents.

Once I’d been issued a high-visibility jacket and hard hat, we hit the road and were on our way to a woman who had pulled her alarm at around 7.15pm.

However, as quickly as that call came in we were diverted to a toddler who had fallen out of a first floor window in Norwich on to concrete - a potentially very serious call.

Luckily, when we arrived the boy was walking around - it was thought his fall had been broken by a ledge halfway down the 15ft drop, preventing him landing on his head.

Later, Tom said: “That could have been very serious, if he’d fallen differently he could have died.”

Paperwork filled in and back on the road, a call comes in to say a woman in her 80s in Poringland was having breathing difficulties. This was a category two call - the second most serious kind - so sirens and lights to get there as quickly as possible.

This time Jake was at the wheel and the four weeks crews have of driving training was clear in the impressive country road navigation.

Arriving at the sheltered housing complex in the village we were confronted with an issue Tom said they often faced - a code needed to gain entry, which had not been provided.

The call button which was supposed to connect to a manager was ringing out, and although we finally got in, Tom said if the patient had been in cardiac arrest, it would have been valuable time lost.

What followed was almost three hours spent with the woman. Her oxygen saturation levels were so low it was recommended she went to hospital, but she did not want to - and Tom explained that because she had capacity to make that decision, and as long as she understood the worst case scenario outcomes, there was not much which could be done.

However, the woman did eventually agree to a check over and so we made our way back to the Norfolk and Norwich.

The amount of time spent in Poringland meant the crew had missed their allotted meal time - a common occurrence.

Crews get 30 minutes of uninterrupted meal breaks, and an extra 15 minutes where if a life-threatening call comes in they can be asked to go on it.

For us, that last 15 minutes was interrupted after a man in his 30s in Norwich had been injecting heroin and crack into his groin, and the needle had snapped.

We were beaten to the scene by an ambulance car but the man was taken to hospital for an X-ray.

It was after this at around 4am I called it a night. But for Tom and Jake they were on shift until 6.45am.

While we didn’t witness the effects of drinking too much on the last weekend before Christmas, it was still a busy night - which highlights the pressure put on to other calls by those unable to handle their drink.

These crews never sit still for long, summed up succinctly by Tom every time a patient asked him if they were rushed.

“It’s busy enough,” he replied.

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