I’ve been off the road on a secondment and returned to station for the first time in six months this week. The changes in that time are dramatic. The situation for crews and patients is by far the worst I’ve ever seen it in twenty years on the road.
On my first day back we’ve just about checked the vehicle when a job comes through. Nothing new there. We visit an unresponsive man. It takes a while to get to the bottom of the situation. He appears to be suffering from an extreme stress reaction. His carer says he has been deteriorating over the last year after having little contact with his family.
I spend an hour trying to get hold of his GP, despite using a bypass number. The doctor is fantastic when we do eventually speak, but he too sounds exhausted. The long term effect of Covid on everyone’s mental health is clear.
We take the next patient into A&E and I find there is a new system for getting in the door. When crews arrive we have to write our crew number on a white board along with the patients NEWS score, which gives an indication of the seriousness of their condition. We then wait in the ambulance with the patient to get called in.
My crew mate tells me the ambulance queue is normal now. On my next shift there is also a queue of patients self-presenting. It runs out of the A&E department and about 20 metres down the road. A woman approaches me and says she’s bought her husband, who has chest pain radiating to the back and jaw, up to the hospital in the car, as they were told an ambulance would take three hours. She’s understandably worried about him waiting in that queue. While I’m talking to her a man approaches me gasping saying he was discharged two days ago after treatment for Covid but is struggling again.
We get our kit and do mini assessments in the car park. When I take them both in to the department, the triage nurse pulls me up for assisting queue jumping.
Later that day we take a seriously ill unconscious woman to A&E. I make a pre-alert call on route, which would usually result in us being allocated a place in Resus [resuscitation] where the patient can get immediate treatment. I’m told they are full and we will have to join the car park queue. We monitor and treat the patient there.
Being late off from shift is a routine part of the job, but it’s got worse. There’s always a bit of end-of-shift time-keeping to cope with that, but things are so unpredictable now that’s gone. On my last shift of the week we are fifth in the queue when the clock ticks past our finish time. An hour and a half later I leave station ready for a few days off.
• Alice Hazel is a paramedic in Yorkshire