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‘It stings that it took a global pandemic to get support’ - one paramedic’s view from the frontline

PUBLISHED: 09:40 13 May 2020 | UPDATED: 09:40 13 May 2020

Coronavirus deaths in the UK have risen by 494 however on May 12 new cases were at their lowest daily figure since March. Picture: Chris Bishop

Coronavirus deaths in the UK have risen by 494 however on May 12 new cases were at their lowest daily figure since March. Picture: Chris Bishop

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The coronavirus pandemic has put all areas of our health service under strain. But one Norfolk paramedic, writing anonymously, says the challenges have been met with long-needed support.

The paramedic said while it had been a distressing time, the government had responded with long-needed extra support.  Photo: Simon ParkinThe paramedic said while it had been a distressing time, the government had responded with long-needed extra support. Photo: Simon Parkin

It took a global pandemic to be recognised.

My job is hard. Difficult for so many reasons and many we all signed up to when we decided to join the ambulance service. The death, the suffering, the illness and injury, the shift work, the missed days, we knew these would be part of our job when we started.

I also knew I was joining an organisation, one I am fiercely proud of, that is underfunded and understaffed.

I joined the NHS knowing this and I have experienced the consequences.

I have waited for hours outside an overflowing emergency department with patients that desperately need medical care, beyond what I can provide. I have kept patients safe in an ambulance as we wait for a stroke doctor to visit them, to assess them on my trolley because the hospital has no beds left.

I arrived to help patients that have now been on the floor for eight hours because every ambulance was diverted to something ‘worse’. I have taken a patient with a broken hip past a hospital and then 30 miles further to the next one because there is no space for them.

I have been four hours late finishing. I have had my single break interrupted because of a life-threatening emergency, every day.

I accepted these challenges - I was upset for my patients and sometimes for myself, but I accepted it. This is the organisation I work for and people are doing their best.

Then we got Covid-19.

I was terrified, we were all terrified. How could the system we work in possibly cope with more patients, with more very poorly patients?

In the early days it was all an unknown. Nobody was really sure what personal protective equipment we should wear, how much we should clean, whether to isolate patients at home or in hospital. It was all confusing and messy but in time things became more organised.

MORE: ‘Nothing can prepare you’ – stories from our brave NHS coronavirus frontline staff

The hospital developed areas for different patients, clinical guidance on symptom management was published and the public seemed to better understand their health.

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I was still prepared for a surge in patients, packing an extra few biscuits and some nicer coffee to help get me through.

But the thing is, it all got easier.

We got standby… This mystical concept of an ambulance crew, signed on and waiting for a call but there being no call. We got wonderful donations from the public and businesses, food and wash things and mask clips.

We got daily emails from managers with information about the day. We got weekly video messages from our boss with updates and support.

We got guidance about our own mental health and reminders about wellbeing. We got more vehicles and more clinical staff. We got teams that clean our vehicles and equipment between patients. The hospitals got more beds, more staff and it seemed perhaps more time to listen to our concerns.

We stopped waiting outside. Our patients went straight into beds and were seen by clinicians quickly. GP surgeries started opening at the weekend to give us advice.

A pathway was set up for mental health patients to avoid A&E and out of hours services supported our efforts to keep the vulnerable at home.

My own grandparents have received excellent care, one supported to die peacefully at home away from ‘the virus’ and the other treated swiftly by the ambulance service – not waiting for hours on her floor after falling.

I know patients are dying, have died with this virus. I’ve cared for people with it and it’s likely I had it myself. I don’t wish for death and suffering, I wouldn’t do my job if I did. I don’t wish for elective surgery to remain cancelled. I don’t wish for staff to be forced to risk their lives and families’ lives to look after the infected and I don’t wish for staff to be asked to work far beyond their normal scope of practice.

But it stings a little bit. Actually quite a lot, that it took a global pandemic to get the support we’ve been screaming for. We’ve been working in a crisis, it’s been a ‘national emergency’ for years but we’ve ‘got on with it’. It makes me sad that my emergency patients are receiving better NHS care now than normal.

We will dance in the support, the extra resources, the down time, the applause.

I just hope we don’t come crashing down.

I hope we don’t get forgotten.

An NHS paramedic working on the frontline

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