Paramedic: “People are dying in front of us”
An ITV News investigation will reveal tonight that strained ambulance crews are failing to reach dying and critically ill patients fast enough, with the system at breaking point.
Paramedics are expected to reach the most serious emergencies – such as cardiac arrests or strokes – within eight minutes.
But ITV News’ research has revealed that thousands of patients in England have had to endure delays well in excess of that target, with some forced to wait for several hours.
In the most severe cases of delays:
- a patient with Sepsis waited four hours and 17 minutes
- a patient suffering a stroke waited one hour and 26 minutes
- an unconscious patient waited one hour and 14 minutes
- a patient who took an overdose waited 47 minutes
A freedom of information request to ambulance trusts found that a total of 7,761 patients – all classed by 999 call handlers as “life-threatening” – waited more than 30 minutes.
This included 225 “Red 1” calls, the most critical cases where the patient is not breathing or does not have a pulse.
The figures, which cover the end of May until the start of August this year, reveal an ambulance service struggling to cope with demand amid growing concern that the health service is heading towards another major winter crisis.
One paramedic, speaking anonymously, spoke of the huge strain placed on emergency crews and the patients who rely on them.
He disclosed that he has witnessed four people die in front of him due to delays in reaching them: We are so stretched; there’s not enough ambulances; not enough staff and people die,” he says.
“We [paramedics] all see it on a daily basis: people are dying in front of us. Our job is to help people and prevent that happening but we just can’t.”
He also revealed that an elderly woman, injured in a fall, had been waiting five hours before he was able to get to her.
“As soon as we moved her, she went into cardiac arrest and passed away – it just made me feel like what’s the point of doing this job.”
Staff shortages and long shifts combined with the emotional pressure of providing life-saving care was having a “demoralising” impact on the workforce, he said.
“Sometimes I get back home and feel like not coming back to work. I want to make a difference but what’s the point?
“Some staff drink alcohol, stress rates go up and mental health issues are widespread.”
The paramedic, who has been working for the NHS for 10 years, is now considering his future in the health service: “We signed up to this job to help people but it’s got to the point where we are constantly so late to reach the most critical patients that by the time we get there, there’s nothing we can do – that’s demoralising,” he says.
“This is not what we signed up for.”