Long shifts, blood and panic - The Bolton News spends a night with a 999 ambulance crew
BOLTON News health correspondent Charlotte Dobson spends a night at the “sharp end” of the NHS with paramedics.
IT’S 7pm on a Friday night in Bolton and the 999 calls for ambulance crews are already stacking up.
Tonight is the night I ride out with paramedics from North West Ambulance Service (NWAS).
As soon as my crew — senior paramedic Stephen Pearson and technician Martyn Nealon — have clocked on at the ambulance station for their 12-hour shift, there are already 35 calls in the call system waiting to for an ambulance to attend.
To help prioritise the most urgent cases, each call is logged in the system with the most serious — such as potentially life-threatening accidents or cardiac arrests — marked out in red at the top of the list.
Stephen said: “Just by looking at this list, we know it’s going to be a busy one.”
Within minutes the sirens are fired up and we’re enroute to our first job — a 70-year-old man pulled over by his dog.
When we arrive, the pensioner has grazed hands and blood on his shirt but seems more shaken-up than anything else.
But when Stephen checks the man’s blood pressure and breathing, he picks up on something much more serious — the 70-year-old’s pacemaker has stopped working.
He’s immediately taken to A&E at Salford Royal Hospital to get a new pacemaker.
“You really never know what you’re going to get when you pick up a patient,” says Stephen.
“For example, that man’s injuries didn’t seem too serious initially but when we picked up his pace-maker wasn’t working, he suddenly became a cardiac patient. If his pacemaker isn’t working, that could have been fatal.”
And that’s the nature of being a paramedic; they never know what they’re walking into.
Whenever NWAS crews arrive at A&E with a patient, they have to check-in on the hospital arrival screens to ensure they hit the 20-minute hand-over period.
But on a busy night in any A&E department, ambulance crews can be waiting between one and two hours for beds to become available.
Next up, we’re called back to Farnworth to help an elderly woman who has fallen in her own front room.
Just from my observations, it seems that older people are definitely at the highest risk of needing the emergency services.
To someone not medically trained, a fall perhaps doesn’t sound like the most pressing of emergencies. That’s until we arrive are the woman’s house and we can hear her crying with pain from outside.
The woman has somehow fallen and become pinned within her walking frame. Even with the support from Stephen and Martyn, she’s unable to move.
She’s also panicking and gripping the frame. But with a lot of coaxing, Stephen manages to calm her down and lift her gently with Martyn onto the chair. Her knee is twisted at a severe angle, which they suspect is due to a dislocated knee and possible broken hip.
When we arrive at the A&E department, once again, the front car park is full of ambulances and rapid response vehicles dropping casualties off. It’s now about 11pm and on a Friday night, it’s only going to get busier.
There’s now a queue of paramedics and patients in the corridor at the Royal Bolton waiting for beds to become available, and as one of the busiest emergency departments in Greater Manchester, it’s no surprise.
After a 40-minute wait and the woman safely handed-over, we’re called to a GP admission — but then two minutes later re-routed to man found collapsed at a bus stop in Worsley.
The police are already with the young man, who is so drunk he cannot speak and can barely stand up. Even though his eyes are as big as saucers, he seems to be in happy place and not much of a threat to anyone — apart from himself.
The police have no cause to arrest him so our paramedics have no choice but to take him to Salford Royal to sober up. Only two paramedics travel in an ambulance at a time, meaning one drives and the other looks after to casualties in the back.
This young man seems harmless but as with anyone under the influence of drink or drugs, his behaviour is unpredictable. This is why so many paramedics have to deal with abusive behaviour, particularly on a busy Friday night.
Stephen, aged 47, from Bolton, said: “This guy is fine at the moment but you never know how they are going to react or how their behaviour might turn.
“We’ve got him strapped in because I’ve seen people try to jump out of the side of the vehicle before. We had no choice but to pick him up tonight because he’s vulnerable. You have to keep your patience and keep a calm head, no matter how frustrated you feel. If you lose it with patients, you’re not going to do your job properly.
“I don’t think people realise what we have to put up with. I’ve been assaulted several times in the 22 years I’ve been a paramedic. The good jobs outweigh the bad. You do get job satisfaction when you make a difference.” When we arrive at Salford Royal, the young man still seems happy — until he takes a swipe at the nurse.
A few days later, Stephen told me the man was arrested for assaulting two nurses.
He added: “Like I said, you never know how people are going to turn.”
For my final job of the night, we’re called to a woman complaining of stomach ache.
Like me, you probably think this sounds like a less serious call-out but as soon as we open the front door — the sound from the living room tells a different story.
This woman cannot move off the floor and her stomach is so swollen and tender she’s almost passing out with the pain.
The paramedics run through all the possibilities with her — Is she just bloated? Is she in labour? Her blood pressure is also dangerously low, which suggests she could be suffering some form of internal bleeding.
She’s immediately taken to the Royal Bolton but this time there’s no wait for a bed and she’s taken straight through.
By now it’s almost 1am and I’ve been ‘on-shift’ for six hours and it’s time for me to clock-off.
I’m exhausted, hungry and ready for bed. I’ve never worked nights and certainly never worked for the emergency services.
By the time I wake up at 7am on the Saturday morning, Stephen and Martyn will have been finishing their shift and NWAS had received six, 380 calls across the North West and 2,425 across Greater Manchester.
Paramedics and technicians are first on the scene for most medical emergencies and have to find a way to help people in the most traumatic situations, whether it’s performing CPR at the scene of a car accident or delivering a baby in someone’s front room.
They also have to keep their cool in the face of self-inflicted injuries from people who have drank too much or got into to a fight at kick-out time.
It’s what they’re trained to do but I think most of you will agree, it takes a certain type of person to do it.
The North West Amubulance Service
- The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) covers an area of 5,400 square miles across all of the North West from Cheshire, through Greater Manchester, and up to Carlisle in Cumbria.
- While Bolton has two north and south stations, crews can travel across the North West to as far as Blackpool sea front in one shift.
- During the August Bank Holiday Weekend, NWAS received 12, 838 calls across the North West and 4798 in Greater Manchester.
- Ever wondered what happens when emergency vehicles race past speed cameras? Each ambulance has a small blue light on the back of the vehicle that, when lit-up, is detected by the speed cameras. If it’s not lit and the ambulance is going above the speed limit, they receive a fine like any other vehicle.
- NWAS has an annual income of £252 million
- It receives more than 1.1 million emergency calls each year
- Emergency crews attend over 952,000 incidents each year
- NWAS makes in excess of 1 million patient transport journeys each year.
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