OPINION: Pity those who need an emergency ambulance - it could be ten hours

Ruth Davies wonders how the UK has got to the point where the NHS is so overworked

Ruth Davies wonders how the UK has got to the point where the NHS is so overworked it can take up to ten hours for an ambulance to arrive at a medical emergency - Credit: Getty Images

I was nine when I choked on a fish bone meaning my mum had to call an ambulance.

We’d had a chippy supper, a rare treat, but little did we know it could have been my final.

The bone got stuck in my throat and, as I stopped breathing, she dialled 999 in a panic, praying blue lights would come and save her daughter.

They arrived pretty quickly, just after she herself had saved her daughter by Heimlich manoeuvring the fish bone out of me.

I remember her bursting into tears and the paramedics treating her really, over me. I suspect she’d been in shock.

I was fine. No harm done. Bit of a scare but lived to tell the tale and grew up believing if you needed an ambulance, then one would come for you.

I was safe and secure in that knowledge because one had come for me. Years later I’ve had two more reasons to dial 999 and request the assistance of an ambulance.

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My son Jimmy was nine months old when he fell, hit his head on the hearth, held his breath and went blue then, Jimmy again but a little older, ploughed headfirst off a bouncy castle producing a lump the size of a dinosaur egg.

Both times ambulances came for him in record speed, both times he was swiftly looked after and both times I thanked goodness we have, had, such a wonderfully well working NHS despite many reasons to their funding saying they could and should be a lot less easy to access.

I think I rather took for granted this had been my experience, assuming this was the experience we would always have and though we know the NHS has financial pressure placed upon it by a government prepared to clap for them, rather than funding them, I’d hoped there was enough in the pot, somehow, to ensure when there’s an emergency, it’s handled.

In step Brexit.

With taking back control of our country and standing on our own two feet, we released our hard-working European friends back to their own countries. Some 63,000 NHS staff (5.6% of the total workforce) were from EU countries. Orderlies, porters, auxiliary nurses, administration staff, café workers, cooks, cleaners… 10% of those doctors and 7% nurses.

Was our plan to employ them all again, only this time from home grown stock, or did we not have a plan at all?

Either way, our home-grown stock don’t want to do jobs like cleaning loos in hospitals for a pittance. And our own, home-grown medical professionals don’t want to be nurses for a country who don’t care about them enough to do more than give them a round of applause, in the midst of a pandemic, while they put their own lives at risk to save others. No wonder applications for nursing degrees are low.

Clapping is lovely. Banners, badges, and discounts at the local pizza joint to say thanks, all great but, what they really need is decent wages and benefits. Neither of which have been forthcoming from the Conservative government who asked us to protect them so.

The upshot is, we have sent the people prepared to do the jobs home and diminished the workforce further by refusing to offer decent pay to those left. And today, if you need an ambulance, well… Let’s just hope it’s not because you’re dying.

Deborah James who is a stage 4 bowel cancer sufferer wrote of her recent medical emergency in her column in The Sun newspaper. She told the story of how she was haemorrhaging, literally bleeding out in her bathroom, as she managed to give the operator her address and explain the severity of what was happening to her.

All while her 12-year-old daughter screamed in the background for someone to save her mummy. The operator, just before Deborah passed out, stated the ambulance would be 40 minutes and asked, did she still want one?

Sharp intake of breath at that. Every time I think about that, I take a sharp intake of breath.

Deborah didn’t die but not because her ambulance arrived. Her husband sped home in time to drive her as fast as he could, and her team, the ones she regularly writes about, has nothing but praise for after they’ve saved her and extended her life over the past years while she lives with her illness, managed to get her condition under control. Left to the ambulance she would have died.

Not the fault of the paramedics. They have to stay with patients until they are admitted to hospitals and with not enough staff to process, triage and filter, coupled with fewer paramedics in line with all the other depleted staff numbers, there simply aren’t ambulances to send. Even if you’re dying on your bathroom floor.

This past week a relative of mine had need of an ambulance for a very critical condition. The 999 call was made at 8.30am and though my relative is vulnerable and was in excruciating pain meaning he could not have travelled without pain relief, he was told the wait time could be ten hours. He was lucky, I suppose, that only seven hours later, it arrived.

Of course, that was just the start, for at this point he entered the queue waiting to be triaged and admitted. It only took another seven-and-a-half hours. By 11pm at night, 14-and-a-half hours after his emergency ambulance had been called, he was admitted to hospital and is being treated.

We, as a family, are very grateful to the medical staff attending to him. We, as a family are rather angry at the situation and its causes.

Me, as a mother, I’m rather terrified of needing an ambulance actually. I just hope, as I always would, that we don’t have the need to call one. Because I certainly don’t feel confident that one will come if I do. Not now.

Ruth Davies has a parenting blog at www.rocknrollerbaby.co.uk