Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ambulance workers under pressure

A growing number of ambulance services in England say the cold start to the month and outbreaks of illness have created unprecedented levels of calls.

Some say staff are struggling to cope and are urging people to dial 999 only in a genuine emergency.

These ambulance service workers spoke about the situation in their area.

CHRIS, AMBULANCE WORKER, LONDON
I have worked for the ambulance service for seven years. We used to receive 3000 calls every 24 hours now it is 5,000.

The last few weeks have been a struggle for a variety of reasons. There are currently a lot of vehicles off the road, people are taking their holidays or are off sick.

Toothaches, broken finger nails and trying to book GP appointments are not reasons to call an ambulance.

Overtime is available, and you have to do it to get a decent wage. But some people are not taking up the overtime at the moment because they just want a break.

We are short-staffed and there are not enough of us to deal with the call rate. We get a lot of wasteful calls; broken fingernails, cut fingers etc.

Not enough is being done to promote what the ambulance service is for. The public need to be better educated.

Toothaches, broken finger nails and trying to book GP appointments are not reasons to call an ambulance. It prevents genuine emergencies getting through quickly.

Everything is target driven and I think patient care is being compromised as a result.

The common misconception is, if you arrive in hospital in an ambulance then you will get seen quicker.

This is not true. You may be assessed by the triage nurse quicker, but if you are low category you will go to the back of the queue.

We have to hit certain government targets to get similar funding for the following year, so everyone is under pressure to reach these targets.

Everything is target driven and I think patient care is being compromised as a result.

We need more funding from the government, we need more staff and we need more vehicles.

There has also been a rise in the number of admissions of drunks and people with alcohol related problems on a Friday and Saturday night. This is also putting pressure on the system.

If it carries on this way, the service will collapse.

ANON, FIRST RESPONDER, WARWICKSHIRE

I am a first responder in Warwickshire. Community First Responders are volunteers trained by the ambulance service to to deal with category 'A' calls which are urgent 999 calls.

Our job is to get to the patient within eight minutes. We need to stabilise the patient until the ambulance arrives. We deal with heart attacks, strokes, breathing problems etc.

As a volunteer I have attended more calls this week than I have in the last month.

We are finding an increase in callouts due to the current crisis.

As a volunteer I have attended more calls this week than I have in the last month.

I log-on when I get home from work and log-off at 6am the next morning. I am on call for all of this time. I do it because ambulances cannot get to many places in my area in under eight minutes.

It could take between 20 to 35 minutes to get to certain places, and if some one had a heart attack, their chances of survival after eight minutes would be very slim.

We normally only get one or two calls a month and so far this month we have had four.


I think this is because of the amount of pressure the ambulance service is under at the moment.

All Community First Responders have been asked to volunteer as many hours as they can.

MATT, PARAMEDIC, SOUTH-EAST

I have been working as a paramedic for four years. There are always periodic increases in calls particularly at this time of year.

I have just started to notice this recent increase.

In a 12 hour shift, I get half an hour break and when that half an hour is up, we immediately get a call from control. They have been waiting half an hour for our break to finish so they can allocate us another job as there is no other crew available.

Call centres are manned by staff who have minimal training.

I think that in the south-east we have enough vehicles and staff, the problem is the sheer volume of calls. Yes it would be great to have more crews but realistically this won't happen.

It is also about balances and changing the system of effective call taking. At the moment anyone can request an ambulance.

Call centre staff have to follow a computer generated script with an algorithm that categorises the call.

They need better training, so they are can categorise the calls more accurately.

Recently we were called to attend to a twenty-something male who blatantly just had a bit of flu.

But because he answered, 'yes' when he was asked whether he had problems breathing, he was categorised as a serious case.

The public also need understand when it is right for them to call an ambulance.

It is about self responsibility, and people need to understand the consequences of calling an ambulance unnecessarily.



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