Today I read the incredibly sad story of Bella Hellings. Bella was a three month baby who died after suffering a seizure in March.
Unfortunately it took 26 minutes for paramedics to arrive on scene due to a number of wholly preventable issues. The fault of these issues lies squarely at the feet of the trust rather than the individual paramedics.
The first issue is that Bella lived on a new build estate, so new in fact that her address didn’t feature on trust vehicles sat navs. Unfortunately for Bella, as is so very common, the houses all look so very similar so the detail her fraught parents gave as a distinguishing feature wasn’t unusual. What I ask of you the reader is tonight, when it’s dusk, step outside your house. Go to the side of the road and see if you can clearly see your house number? I can pretty much guarantee that it’s not clearly visible. For your own sake please find a much larger house number than the one you have and make sure it can be seen from the road. Yes I know you know where you live, as does the postman but the emergency services don’t and unless it’s clearly visible from the road there will be a completely preventable delay in finding you when you need help at your most vulnerable time. I have no idea if this was the case at Bella’s house but it is at pretty much every other house I’ve ever had to visit and is a point worth mentioning.
The next issue was that an ambulance had to stop for fuel. How have we got to the state that we run our ambulances so ragged that there is insufficient time to refuel them other than when they’re on an emergency call? Now I don’t know what vehicles East of England run and I don’t know their range but I’m pretty sure, like everywhere else in the country, the crews get called out seconds after they log on and are constantly run until they finish. I also know that WMAS has staff called Ambulance Fleet Assistants. Their job essentially consists of ensuring the vehicles are ready to go out at the start of each shift, part of this is to refuel them from their own diesel tanks they have at some of their ambulance hubs. I would suggest that East of England need to do similar to ensure their vehicles start the shift fully fueled. While this wont fix the problem of having ambulances run constantly it will prevent issues like this from happening again, additionally it will deliver cost savings which will enable more money to be put into frontline vehicles and crews.
The key issue on the refueling of the double crewed ambulance (DCA) is there isn’t enough of them. There simply aren’t enough DCAs to go around. Any paramedic who crews a car will be able to tell you of horrendous waits for very sick patients, I’m personally aware that in at least one county the amount of DCAs available on a Friday/Saturday night is regularly less than the digits on one hand. This leads to delays, the DCAs are constantly working their entire shift and their journey times are now longer as EDs have been shut and downgraded. Unfortunately this means there is no resilience within the system and it’s not beyond the realm of imagination to imagine that one day, somewhere in the country all the ambulances will be held up outside one hospital and something terrible happen leading to a horrendous wait for DCAs to arrive on scene.
I’m very suprised that no-one has every submitted an FOI request for one specific night and asked for DCA crewing levels across the country – I would be astounded if there wasn’t a sea change after if this is undertaken. Cars have their place in the ambulance service but with services chasing a government imposed arbitrary target of 8 minutes, with their entire worth measured on this one target, it appears services are crewing more and more cars at the expense of DCAs.
There shouldn’t be a choice between DCAs and cars, there needs to be a dramatic uplift in funding for ambulance services across the country, until this happens there will be incidents like this up and down the land and more people will die. I implore the government to give ambulance services more cash for vehicles and crews as they are so desperately needed.