The life of a paramedic: 12 hours on shift with an East of England Ambulance crew

An ambulance and rapid response vehicle. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

An ambulance and rapid response vehicle. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

They spend their lives responding to people in dire need of help, but face many challenges along the way. Health correspondent Nicholas Carding joined two paramedics for a busy night shift.

A man in his 80s had fallen in his bedroom one night.

He was unable to move from the bloodsoaked floor and his frantic wife had called for urgent help.

Earlier an 88-year old woman suffered the same fate as she attempted to walk to the bathroom.

And that same evening a 23-year old girl in Hellesdon was barely able to walk after an abscess on her thigh burst.

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All three were treated by East of England Ambulance Service Trust medics Marc Betts and Adrian Bateman during another busy night for our region's 999 crews.

The beleagured ambulance trust has often made the headlines for missed targets, staff departures, and poor management, but as the EDP witnessed the crew's treatment is high-quality, compassionate, and impressive, given the challenges of the job.

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Our night-shift starts ominously, with the news that the N&N is once again on black alert with up to 15 ambulances queueing outside its A&E.

After the 15-minute obligatory check on the vehicle and its medical supplies we are on our way.

Our first patient is a Norwich man in a 'potentially life-threatening' situation, according to the 111 service.

Armed with emergency kit, we go into his home where we find a 60-something lonely man worried about an infection on his leg.

His condition is not remotely life-threatening and after giving him a thorough check-over Marc tells him to go to his GP first thing in the morning.

While the crew take the patient's blood-pressure Marc's radio whirrs as the control room asks if any staff are free to go to a genuinely life-threatening cardiac arrest.

But Marc and Adrian can't leave the patient until they have carried out their checks, despite his condition being minor.

'We really ought to be elsewhere treating more serious patients,' he later says. 'But if a patient's symptoms over the phone match a 'life-threatening' condition according to the call-handler's chart there is little we can do about that.

'There needs to be more public awareness of when to call 999, 111, and when to wait and see a doctor the next day.

'I feel people take us for granted.'

Next up is 23-year old woman in Hellesdon whose abscess has burst and is causing much pain.

It needs dressing, and Adrian rings a doctor based in the control-room for more advice. The scheme of having a doctor available at HQ on the phone was recently introduced by the trust and is welcomed by the crew.

After leaving Hellesdon we are diverted twice before we head to Attleborough to be on stand-by.

Lunch is a short affair, lasting 30 minutes at the ambulance station, before we're back on the A11 to Gorleston to a 50-year-old woman with chest pains.

Adrian and Marc exchange resigned glances as we are informed the woman has a history of being sexually inappropriate and has previously met visiting paramedics in the nude.

But we are spared any awkward greeting as we are diverted again, this time to Dereham where an elderly woman has fallen.

At 4am we are sent to a man in his 80s who has suffered the same fate. After an hour of much huffing and puffing, Adrian and Marc are able to hoist him into a special chair, carry him down the stairs, and take him to the N&N for a suspected dislocated hip.

We arrive at the N&N's A&E at 6.21am, where mercifully there are no ambulance queues. But after handover to the hospital is completed 20 minutes of the shift still remains.

And this means the crew can still be sent to jobs miles away, resulting in late finishes. 'I've finished around an hour later in my last three or four shifts,' Adrian says. 'The longer we have to work the more unsafe it becomes.'

The trust has trialled schemes to reduce late finishes, but improvements have been hard to find as bosses constantly have to battle with the pressure of hitting waiting-time targets.

This morning however, the remaining 20 minutes pass quietly and we are relieved to end our shift exactly 12 hours after it began.

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