Paramedics under strain

My 12 year old son was taken ill last night and after a frantic call to NHS's 111 service the medic on the line decided since neck and head injuries were suspected an "urgent" ambulance was necessary. This was just after 5pm.

We were told to sort childcare for our other children, lock pets away and send someone outside to watch for the ambulance to direct them. We were told not to use the phone in case they needed to call back. We were also told to put outside lights on as a guide - it was still broad daylight at this point which should have given us some indication of how long our wait was likely to be.

The first paramedic arrived about an hour later. He was very apologetic for the delay -he had come a long way- but quickly fitted a neck brace and made sure my son ( who it appeared had suffered some form of seizure) was stable.
child in neck brace on back board

He quickly decided my son needed to go to hospital and called for backup in the form of a "proper" ambulance. He told them it was a young lad and described the issues. Throughout the next hour while my son had to keep perfectly still with the paramedics and my first aid trained neighbour holding his head we heard more and more calls over the radio for increasingly urgent sounding needs.  Each time we held our breath in case "our" ambulance was diverted. The paramedic called for updates regularly and every time reminded them of the seriousness of the situation and the age of the patient.

Finally the second team arrived and swiftly and professionally re-assessed my boy and agreed he need to be in hospital. We finally arrived there at around 7.30pm. Only 2 and a half hours after we called but it seemed like a lifetime.

Luckily my son had no neck or head fractures and he is now in the system to be seen by specialists to investigate his health issues.

This whole post sounds like I'm leading up to a moan about the NHS and paramedic service. It is absolutely not that.

It is in fact a big thank you to the three paramedics who helped us last night and indeed everyone we encountered at the hospital including porters, radiographers, nurses, doctors....

Throughout our stay we could hear how busy they were, how they tried to keep on top of the workload prioritising the most urgent cases and placating those becoming impatient because of their long wait.

I cannot imagine how hard it must be to work in these beleaguered services, desperate to help those in real need but with their hands tied by beaurocrats, accountants and time wasters.

The first paramedic and the two who arrived later were all fantastic with my son and with us, with the right blend of chat, wit and seriousness. They calmed him and talked us through everything that was happening and that might happen. I have absolutely nothing but admiration for them and the overstretched staff we encountered during our unexpected visit yesterday.

The whole experience has left me slightly terrified of how thin resources are spread and I fear for the time I might need them in a proper hurry.

I have heard horror stories of people who have rung 999 for an ambulance for ridiculous reasons. Check online - there are loads, including the woman who wanted ambulance staff to come to fetch her washing in because the path was icy, a man who rang for an ambulance because he felt sick after eating loads of chocolate and a woman who wanted paramedics to come round a try to revive a dead bird in her garden.

I can't believe it needs to be said that Ambulances and A & E are for serious, possibly life changing accidents and emergencies. Not because you have a sore throat but can't get a doctors appointment. I didn't even call one myself yesterday, going straight to the 111 service. It was staff on the phone there who called it after discussing his symptoms.

To be honest, I didn't even call one when my husband had a heart attack - I probably got to A&E quicker than an ambulance would anyway.

I hope none of my family ever need another ambulance but I suspect one day we will. I just hope that it gets to us in time and isn't diverted by someone who doesn't understand their purpose

*If you want to read about life in the emergency services from a paramedic's point of view, check out this incredible blog from billyrunner.