Opinion: I have such great admiration for ambulance staff

Lady Leicester with Carol Kemp at the ambulance control room.

Lady Leicester with Carol Kemp at the ambulance control room. - Credit: Archant

After spending time in the control room of the East of England Ambulance Service and a 12 hour shift with paramedics, the County's High Sheriff, the COUNTESS OF LEICESTER, says it is time to give some praise to the staff on the front-line and think twice before we dial 999.

One of the privileges of being High Sheriff is you can ask to visit almost any organisation in the county and see behind the scenes of how they work.

Recently I spent time at the ambulance service's control room in Norwich where some 40 people monitor screens split between 999 emergency calls and the other calls on the 111 helpline.

Another section is busy despatching ambulances which varies from having 10 available one minute and then none another. It is a great skill being a call handler in this situation, when you have to keep calm and work out how urgent the call is and what is the best solution. It is testing work and they are often underrated.

My 12 hours out with a crew began at 8am at Cromer with a call to a woman in the town with chest pains and she was swiftly taken to hospital.

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Her family had never called 999 before and were apologetic for calling out the paramedics but the experienced ambulance team were professional, kind and caring to all the family.

We then had a blue light, siren blasting dash from Norwich to Diss to deal with a young girl who had possibly taken too many tablets.

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Again the professional team took the greatest care as they deal with blood pressure, an ECG and other tests before taking her to hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

A painful knee followed which was referred to a local doctor and then an elderly lady with a grazed head followed by an elderly man who had slipped off his chair were all dealt with in a kind and patient way before the team moved on.

The team that day, Lee and Anna, appeared to me to take on several different roles from almost stand in doctors to counsellors and on top of all those demands they have the courage to drive like Formula One drivers when a case demands. They and others on the team are hurt by all the bad publicity their service receives.

They feel there is too much emphasis purely on response times particularly in rural areas due to the sheer distance and sometimes poor roads they have to travel. They also find it difficult when they have to deal with people lacking English language skills who do not understand the system. All too often, due to patient confidentiality, they cannot publish many of the success stories.

They do believe resources are improving and in Cromer they now have three ambulances available 24 hours and a fourth one on Friday and Saturday. There are also new ambulances stationed at Diss and Fakenham.

But they still believe people find it too easy to call 999 and I certainly saw this as out of the five calls we made only two were cases that needed immediate hospital treatment.

The team were ever-patient with the non-emergency calls as all they are allowed to say is 'Do you think this call-out was appropriate?'

Years ago you thought long and hard before calling 999 but that was partly because the local GP did more hours and they made more home visits. It meant the 999 call was the last resort and for very real emergency issues. Today that situation is completely reversed and the hard-pressed ambulance service is the first thought and the first call.

After our 12 hour shift we are all worn out and we had only had a half hour break for a quick sandwich at lunchtime. No coffee or tea break on that shift and for me it meant going to bed as soon as I reached home.

I have the greatest admiration for our ambulance service and I would urge everyone in the county to really think twice before they dial those numbers next time.

We should all remember you can put someone else's life at risk if you are using an ambulance team for a non-emergency.

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