NHS: What a 12 hour paramedic shift really looks like

Ambulance response times are currently the worst on record and the NHS is struggling to cope with increased demand this winter.

Sky News joined West Midlands Ambulance Service paramedic Danny Thompson and ambulance technician Dan Fiedler for a 12-hour shift.

7am: Elderly couple ‘too scared’ to call 999

Freezing fog hangs over Coventry as Danny and Dan make sure their radios are charged and their vehicle is well stocked before setting off.

It’s unusually quiet at first, but just before 8 a.m. they get their first call.

The patient is an elderly man who fell and injured his arm. They turn on the sirens and flash blue lights as they race through the fog.

Arriving home, they find the patient, Edward, 86, in bed. Norma, his wife, sits next to him.

Edward’s arm is swollen and purple. Turns out he fell two days ago.

“It said on TV to only call if it’s a matter of life or death,” Norma told Danny.

Danny and Edward in the ambulance

He tells her to call right away in the future. They fear that patients in need of help have been deterred from calling by advice given on strike days.

“People are a little scared to call ambulances because they think they’re going to be stuck in the hallways or in the back of an ambulance,” Dan says.

As they prepare to take Edward, who has an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease, to the ER, they chat.

Dan asks Edward how long he and Norma have been married. “62 years old,” he says. “How did you meet? Dan asks. “In the pictures,” Edward replies.

“He thinks I’m a superwoman,” Norma tells Danny, as she details how they’re coping without any caregivers.

But she is relieved to see the paramedics.

“When I rang my heart sank because they stop halfway and say use www…we’re not on the World Wide Web,” she says. “I’m not really complaining, it’s just that we haven’t kept up with our technology.”

Rosemary is hesitant to return to A&E after a long wait

10 a.m.: Woman refuses to ‘freeze’ in A&E despite fear of blood clots

“Directly… very unusual,” Danny remarks as they drive Edward to the emergency department in Coventry where he will have an x-ray to check if his arm is broken.

Back outside in the ambulance, their radio beeps to let them know it’s been 12 minutes since they handed Edward over.

This means they are supposed to be ready for the next call.

Next stop is an elderly patient whose district nurse fears she has a blood clot in her leg.

When they arrive at her house, Rosemary is sitting upstairs.

Her daughter explains that they went to A&E a few weeks ago and spent hours waiting in a freezing hallway. They don’t want to go back.

After doing some tests, Danny and Dan think it’s fluid and not a blood clot causing the swelling.

They agree to take him the same day to an urgent care unit at Nuneaton Hospital.

But on their way, a Category 1 call arrives. They’re the nearest ambulance, so they apologize to Rosemary, turn on the blue lights, and head in the direction of the call.

A few minutes later however, they are told to stand down.

They continue on their way with Rosemary and apologize for the diversion as they leave her in the hospital.

Rosemary arrives at the hospital
Rosemary arrives at the hospital

1 p.m.: Seizure and slow heartbeat treated in five minutes

They don’t even get a chance to finish their lunch before another Category 1 call arrives.

Details indicate that an elderly woman is having a seizure.

Inside the house, they quickly realize that she has a heart problem and it’s serious. She has already passed out once.

They put her in the ambulance and do ECG tests. His heart rate drops, there is a risk that he stops.

Danny calls Coventry Hospital to tell them to have a team ready.

The machines beep and the patient tells them she is scared.

Danny and Dan work quickly to stabilize her heart rate. Their reassuring tone as they tell her not to worry contrasts with the urgency of the situation.

They get him to A&E within five minutes. His heart is still beating, but very slowly.

They are both relieved that it wasn’t one of the days they stood in line outside the hospital.

“The heart condition she suffered from can often lead to death if not detected in time,” says Danny.

Dan (left) and Danny
Dan (left) and Danny

4 p.m.: Good news but it was close

After filling out all their paperwork, they finally get a lunch break around 4:30 p.m. They can take half an hour, unless a category 1 call comes in. They return to base where Dan joins a small group of colleagues.

After 30 minutes, Danny comes to pick him up. There is another call.

Sirens on, they head for a nearby house. They can’t be sure the patient doesn’t have a blood clot, so they take her to the ER.

There, they discover that the heart patient has undergone emergency surgery to install a pacemaker. She is fine.

This is good news to end the day. But they know it was close.

“Things can’t go on as they are,” Danny says. “Because we’re going to see patients suffer because of it.”

Danny with the heart patient
Danny with the heart patient

7:00 p.m.: 12-hour shift

It’s rare to finish on time this winter – but this time they’re back at base exactly 12 hours into their shift.

They restock the ambulance and greet the teams taking over, before leaving in the night.

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