Dear Steve Barclay, I’m a paramedic at an NHS ambulance service in England. Today is strike day, and I’m begging you to put aside your party’s dispute with trade unions and fix our NHS. The strikes aren’t going to break it, it’s already broken.
A few days ago, I went to a man in his 30s with a treatable illness who had been waiting 12 hours for an ambulance. His heart had stopped beating by the time I arrived.
I truly believe that if he had been seen in 18 minutes – the target for category 2 emergency calls like his – he would have lived. He should have been taken to hospital, spent a few days in a bed cared for by world-leading nurses, and discharged in time for Christmas.
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I’ve never seen anything like the crisis we’re facing now. It’s unsafe and the level of suffering is more than I saw even during the pandemic. I very rarely cry at work. To work in the ambulance service you have to develop an outer shell that keeps your mind on the job, whether that’s a rape scene, murder or violence against children. But that day I sat in my cab crying my eyes out thinking of that dead man’s poor family. Because this was completely avoidable.
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In one trust there were 420 patients waiting for an ambulance in a single evening earlier this month and more than 150 ambulances were waiting outside a hospital to hand over a patient. The South Western Ambulance Service has already issued a warning to the public that ambulances may only be able to respond to calls when “there is the most immediate risk to life”. The East of England Ambulance Service has already declared a critical incident. This is before the strikes have taken place.