Tag Archives: Emergency

Time off and a thank you

Just thought I’d post a quick update. I’ve been off work for a little while after the arrival of my beautiful baby girl 🙂  – please excuse the poor grammar and lazy prose, I’m very sleep deprived – I’m off for a little while longer, as such there’s no cool exciting jobs for me to tell you about. There is the trauma of dirty nappies but that’s not really the point of this blog!

I also wanted to drop a quick thank you to the team at Parameducate on Facebook for sharing my humble blog and bringing literally hundreds of new visitors to my page; welcome all and hope you enjoy it.

 

While I’m here, I’ll post a quick job that’s popped into my head.

During one night shift, we were in a neighbouring city which is well out of our normal patch. The trouble with big cities is that the are such busy places that resources from further and further afield get dragged into the region to cover the huge volume of 999 calls received.

Thankfully, the ambulances have a pretty decent navigation system (Terrafix, for those that want to know), as long as you apply some common sense, so its not too bad finding addresses in foreign areas.

So, with no chance of escape from the city grasp, we receive details of a Red call across the city for a 27 year old having an allergic reaction. These types of calls are funny ones; people call for a range of severities when it comes to reactions. Some people call for full on anaphylaxis where as others will call 999 for a simple skin rash. This chap’s housemates had called for the former.

An allergy to nuts in some leftover curry was all it took. Nut oil in the sauce, to be precise. He was knelt on the floor with has hands out in front of him propping himself up on the back of a chair, desperately gasping for air through his swollen airway. I grabbed my torch and shone it in his mouth looking for obvious swelling, while my crewmate opened the drugs bag and began drawing up the lifesaving drugs.

I quickly grabbed my stethoscope from my pocket (tearing the fabric in the process!) and listened to his chest: wheeze; wheeze; wheeze; loads of wheezing. I turned to my colleague to report my findings but he handed me a nebuliser before I had a chance to say anything – he’s very experienced and knew he’d need the vapourised drugs which the oxygen mask delivered.

I strapped the mask to his face and shoot my colleague a quick glance. We both know this guy is ‘big sick’, we need to give him more drugs, and quickly! I tell him I need to put a needle into a vein to give him more drugs. He hears me but doesn’t respond, he can’t talk! An enourmous vein jumps out at me and a insert a 16 gauge cannula (it’s a wide-bore IV, incase I need to push IV fluids later). I give a powerful steroid, a strong antihistamine and inject adrenaline into his thigh muscle. Constantly reassessing AB and C. I listen once more to his chest; plenty of air moving now, that wheeze is definitely improved. He starts to utter single words to tell me what’s happened.

5 minutes pass but it feels like a lifetime, we perform blood pressure, ECGs and other observations. He became able to talk in full sentences again.
A short while later, he seems to have made a full recovery. It’s so satisfying being able to bring someone back from the brink!

We conveyed him to A&E for further monitoring after the strong drugs we gave him which could affect his heart. I get the feeling that the A&E team don’t believe how bad he was, but we know. We know.

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That newly qualified wobble

I’ve worked on the frontline of the Ambulance service for almost 6 years. I’ve been to my fair share of horrific jobs and in the words of my veteran crew mate, I’ve “got chops” (I smiled and said thanks when he said it, but don’t really know what it means. I assume it means I’ve got bragging rights). 

For the last year prior to qualifying, I’ve been working all but autonomously with my Paramedic crew mates; assessing, making decisions about treatment, administering drugs and handing over to hospital staff. I’ve been confident in my decision making and felt happy to take the lead. Albeit with a safety net of my colleague sat next to me. 

Last month I completed my degree course, qualified and registered as a Paramedic. “Finally” I thought to myself!

So, I’m now in a position to do all of the above; assessing, making decisions about treatment, administering drugs and handing over to hospital staff, BUT it will be on my registration and me signing the paperwork off. I still feel confident and competent and am looking forward to the challenge. 

Imagine my horror then, at the following. 

999 call to a 12 month old little girl who is “hard to wake”. My crew mate and I make good progress through the busy city traffic in our big Mercedes Ambulance, sirens wailing as we speed to the address. 

Upon our arrival the front door is ajar, we grab all of our kit (4 bags, oxygen cylinder, tablet computer and defib) and head in calling “hello, ambulance” as we tentatively enter the house. 

We’re called into the living room by the patient’s dad, who’s holding little one in his arms. She looks round at me as I introduce us which reassures me she’s fully conscious and alert. We take a brief history from dad which includes details of breathlessness for 2 days and a fever. Reduced food intake and being tired and clingy. 

Between my crew mate and I, we take a full set of observations which give us her respiratory rate, heart rate, temperature, blood glucose level and a test to establish how well perfused she is by pinching her finger and seeing how quickly it returns to a normal colour (sometimes the simple tests are the most effective).

We establish that although she seems calm, she’s working hard at breathing with an increased respiratory rate. Her heart rate is also raised. 

6 weeks ago, I would’ve made my decision. Bosh. Sorted. Confident and competent, remember? But I sat there looking at the child, looking at her numbers and I could not for the life of me make a decision about what to do. 

I knew she needed to see a Doctor but couldn’t decide whether to refer her to the out of hours GP or take her directly to A&E.

Her dad was sensible and would’ve known what to look for should we decide to leave her. But what if she deteriorates. Equally I don’t want to fill an A&E bed with a child that could be treated easily in the community. A hundred thoughts whizz through my mind but I could not extract a decision.

After what felt like an age (but was less than 30 seconds) I decided to convey the child to A&E for urgent assessment by a Doctor. 

We took her in, she needed no treatment or drugs so it was an uneventful journey. I had a nice chat to her Dad about this’n’that, and handed her over to the hard working team at the local A&E.
Afterwards I spoke with my Paramedic colleague when we got back to station and confessed that I had struggled to make a decision. 

“It’s completely normal” she reassured me. “You looked at all the facts and made the right decision based on what you had, it was fine.”

Apparently a ‘newly qualified wobble’ is quite normal, and shows that we care about our patients and outcomes. 

My crew mate tonight has been a Paramedic for upwards of 30 years and said he still airs on the side of caution if he’s doubting a decision. That helps 🙂 

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The first solo shift…

…turned out to not be solo at all:

 

I arrived on station, alone. Checked the vehicle. Booked out the drugs bag from the safe and logged on for my shift. I radio’d control and asked if they new that a) I’d now qualified and could be used as an EMT (there was a chance I’d still be marked on the manning as a student, and therefor not responsible to anything on my own) and b) if they had a plan for me as apposed to being alone.

“Roger, thanks I’ll update the manning now for you. We do have a plan; a Paramedic in [another town 12 miles away] is also solo on their vehicle. Take your lunch and stuff and head across to crew up with her when you’re ready”.

That’ll do. They told me who I’d be with and I was happy. A very experienced Paramedic of 26 years+ who has always been pleasant when I’ve spoken to her in the past. The last thing you want is a cranky crew mate for a 12 hour shift!

I finished checking my vehicle, made a brew in my travel mug and headed across to meet her. I was available for emergencies the whole drive across, but none came in that I was nearest to, so I arrived uninterrupted.

She, too had checked a vehicle and had her Paramedic kit already loaded, so we used her vehicle. I parked mine in the garage, locked the keys away and added my login to the onboard computer system.

First job, straight away – good timing. 92 year old female, fallen.

We rushed to the address as we always do and were let in by the warden of the sheltered housing site. He told us that he’d found the lady on his morning rounds. She seemed uninjured but he was unable to lift her up. He’d put a pillow under her and a duvet over her to keep her warm, so she was quite comfortable.

We assessed her, found no injuries, so lifted her onto her feet. She was perfectly well so left her at home with a note to the GP to advise of the fall.

We cleared on scene to be sent another job immediately. It was nearby, to an 84 year old man who had also fallen, this time in the garden while watering the tomatoes. He’d tripped over the hose and landed on soft grass. His neighbour saw him over the fence and called us.

He, too was uninjured, but we found some concerning neurological signs. Further investigation revealed that he hadn’t tripped over the hose at all. He had a sudden weakness in his right leg, which was also present in his right arm. He was confused, repetitive and slurring his words. This poor man was having a stroke. I put an IV in his hand incase we needed to give him any drugs (a risk of stroke patients is that they’ll begin fitting uncontrollably and can only be stopped by IV drugs) and rushed him 28 miles to the nearest A&E. That’s the only problem with living in remote picturesque villages – it’s a very long way to hospital! Old people should be made to live near hospitals. In bungalows. With doors wide enough for stretchers 🙂

We did a few more nothing-jobs, all treated at scene then received a call to a 15 year old fallen from a tree “as high as a house”. People calling 999 in a panic are rubbish at estimating hight so we always reserve judgement until we see how far they’ve fallen.

“Hello, we’re from the ambulance service, what’s happened?”

“My mate fell from up there *points to branch*”

“That one?” I also point.

“No, the one above it”

“Ah, the one that’s as high as a house then”

They were right, he’d fallen somewhere near 12-15 meters, hitting several branches on the way down. Somewhat mercifully, he’d landed in a patch of stinging nettles which broke most of his fall. In fact, the only real external injury was a large abrasion on his arse and stings from the nettles.

We scooped him onto an orthopaedic stretcher and applied a hard collar to help protect his neck incase of injury, gave him some pain relief and made a start for A&E.

Despite his remarkable lack of injury, it’s courteous to call the receiving A&E department so they know you’re on the way with a trauma that has potential to be quite nasty. He was perfectly stable and had no other apparent injuries, but he may have had something under the skin that we cannot see without at least a CT scan.

We arrived at hospital to find a full trauma team – 9 doctors and 2 nurses, all with individual roles. My crew mate gave a full clinical handover and the lead doctor said:

“So basically, he’s hurt his bum?”

“Errr, yeah.”

Everyone smiled slightly, including the patient who was high on gas-and-air. The trauma team set to work  while we told the family in the relative’s room what was happening. I’m confident he’ll be fine. The worst bit of it for him was his mates hearing us say that we’d need to see his bum. They took great pleasure in laughing at him. I suspect it’ll take him a while to live that one down!

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Blood and bloody idiot

There are a couple of terms used to define bleeding in the medical field;

Capillary – this is when the surface of the skin is scratched, but not deeply, and small spots of blood ooze from the damaged capillaries.

Venous – when a vein is nicked and blood will slowly weep from the wound.

Arterial – Blood will spurt out with every beat of the heart, sometimes spraying large distances depending on the size of the artery.

 

That final one, the arterial bleed, is considered to be a catastrophic haemorrhage. That is, if the bleeding is not quickly stemmed, a person will die within minutes.

 

Today, while working from a different station to normal, we were sent to a 25 year old who had punched through a window in a fit of rage, cutting his forearm. We were told the call had come from Police and they would also be attending.

We arrived after the Police and followed the significant trial of blood to a male laying on the floor, with his girlfriend tightly holding a towel around his arm, blood pouring down through her fingers. Thankfully, we had brought our critical haemorrhage kit in with us, so prepared to uncover, assess and re-dress the wound.

My crew mate wrapped his hands tightly around the arm to slow any bleeding while I prepared some gauze, a trauma dressing (more on that later) and a tourniquet.

*This next section is not for the squeamish!*

I slowly removed the towels to find a large wound which was deep enough to nearly see bone through muscle and tendons. He had two large skin flaps where he had effectively de-gloved his arm, he had some blood clots within the wound from a venous bleed, and a quite noticeable spurting bleed from his Ulnar artery (one of two which run down the forearm). He had lost around 1500ml of blood. The quick actions of his partner prevented him losing any more than that, which would have lead to shock.

We quickly ‘eyeballed’ the wound for any pieces of glass – there was none – and wrapped our trauma dressing around it. The trauma dressing we used has been developed by the military. It is specially designed to apply pressure directly over a section of injury on a limb, without using a tourniquet, which is always the last line of defence in a catastrophic bleed, as the limb may not survive.

While all this was going on, we obtained a quick history of what had happened. An argument with his ‘missus’ caused a fit of rage and he’d punched a window. He was also intoxicated and had been taking cocaine. He was also a bit of a knob head.

He immediately took a dislike to my crew mate (the person applying pressure to his wound to stop him bleeding to death) because he had “one of them faces innit”, calling him a c*nt and saying he would smash his face in. Delightful. Thankfully, I’ve got a knack of getting on with people like that, a trick I learned from an old crew mate of mine. As such, I quickly built up a rapport with him and persuaded him to come to hospital with us. Yes, I had to actually persuade him!

During this, he continued to be verbally aggressive to all of us and stood unaided to show us how strong he was. Now, he clearly worked out, but also clearly used steroids. We advised he shouldn’t eat or drink in case he needed surgery, so he drank a pint of water. We recommended a wheelchair due to the blood loss, so he walked upstairs to find his phone, all the while, using the C-bomb like it was punctuation and swearing at us all and being generally aggressive and intimidating. The Police said they would travel with us and called for backup from the PC they had dubbed the ‘man-mountain’. And with good reason. At 6’2″ and 18 stone of muscle, he would certainly be able to contain our almost equally sized patient – owing to the advantage of a working arm. And pepper spray. And a taser.

He eventually walked to the ambulance and sat in a chair because we’d suggested he lay on the stretcher (am I building up a picture of what this bloke is like?). I inserted a cannula into his vein to give some pain relief through a drip. All the while he told me how shit I was at my job. We swiftly left the scene on blue lights heading for A&E. After around 6 minutes of travelling, he decided he had become board of wearing a seatbelt and sitting in a chair while in an ambulance travelling at speed through a town centre, so he undid it – against mine and the PC’s insistence – just as my crew mate had to reduce his speed for traffic ahead. As such, the unrestrained man now hurtled towards the bulkhead, stopping himself on a work surface, pulling his IV line out as he did so. This angered him greatly, and clearly it was my fault so he began swearing at me and saying how I wasn’t fit to do the job etc etc. We had to stop the ambulance, causing traffic chaos, to re-restrain him on the stretcher.There was no way I was going back near him with a needle, so I offered him some gas and air for the pain, which he accepted….

 

…for 3 minutes before throwing the mouthpiece at me and calling me a smug c*nt. The Police officer all the while provided suitable dissuasion from him trying anything. I was glad of the PC’s presence!

This pattern of threatening violence, kicking equipment and behaving like a general tit continued for the long 20 minute drive to A&E. It was one of the most stressful journeys I’ve ever had while attending a patient in an ambulance, and I’ve dealt with some stuff in my time! During the whole trip, I had to keep an eye on the wound to make sure it didn’t start bleeding through the dressing, I had to check that it wasn’t so tight it was cutting circulation off to his hand and somehow get some vital signs. He declined any vital signs and wouldn’t let me near him. All I could do was document it and make sure the built-in CCTV was functioning.

We handed him over to the A&E nurse with an apology, as they’d have to deal with his very unpleasant manner. I feel I should add that he hadn’t lost enough blood to cause severe agitation like that, he was just drunk, high and angry.

Afterwards, I was washed out and a bit teary. It’s very hard to provide life saving treatment to someone, only for them to call you a c*nt 27 times and throw things at you. I can scarcely believe there are people like that out there. But there are, and I’m sure I’ll meet many more during my career.

 

So, I guess….don’t do drugs. Or punch windows. Or be a prick to people who save your life 🙂

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Spice is the spice of life…ish

‘Legal highs’ are becoming a bit of a concern in healthcare circles. They are becoming more and more prevalent, especially among younger children of school/collage age!

For those that don’t know what a legal high is, it is the broad term for a range of drugs that are available legally to purchase over the internet. They pose as a plant fertiliser or similar, and are usually in powder form. They are given unusual names such as ‘whizz’ or ‘spice’, the latter being more popular. Spice is a cannabis derivative mixed with a cocktail of unknown chemicals to bulk it out. It can be smoked with tobacco or sniffed like cocaine.

The trouble with spice is, it kills people. Kills them. It produces a fierce chemical reaction with the bodies own enzymes which increases heart rate, reduces oxygen to the brain which causes respiratory failure, coma and eventually death. But not before a period of psychosis, profuse vomiting, disorientation and symptoms of a heart attack.

Delightful, where can I get some?!

Well, it seems that if you want some spice, all you need to is end up in prison. It is rife!

Cue a flashback to a recent call in the middle of the day to a Category C prison (which is for those who cannot be trusted in an open space) for a 30 year old man who was found unconscious in his cell. He was witnessed to be fitting so the prison nurse was alerted who came and treated him while we were on the way.

Despite there being no packaging for Spice anywhere, the presentation of the man was very similar to someone who had taken it.

When we arrived, we had to pass through 4 double locked gates like a safari park before being signed in to the log in triplicate, then finally being taken to the cell block. After that, we had to grab all our equipment then be escorted into the cell block.

I don’t really get nervous easily with my surroundings. I’m always aware of any danger, but very rarely get scared. I’ve been to drug dens and large fights in small rooms and always managed quite well, but for some reason, I was cacking myself!

As we walked in, every inmate stopped what they were doing and looked at us. The high walls and railings and narrow corridors made it a rather intimidating place to be.

We were shown to the cell to find a male on the floor looking pretty sick. He had a reduced level of consciousness, a racing heart and his colour was pretty poor. We were on the first floor so I needed to get a carry chair, which meant I had to go back to the ambulance and get one! This meant walking along a gangway and down some stairs to the door. Seems simple enough, but I’ve never felt like more of an outsider. Guys stood in the doors of their cells just stared at me as a walked by, people in the gangway didn’t give me much space to pass them and I didn’t really fancy making eye contact.

Anyway, my concerns aside, in the time it had taken me to get the chair and return, my crew mate had got some oxygen on him and gained IV access incase we needed to give him any drugs to stop subsequent seizures. We carried him out to the ambulance, lifted him onto the stretcher and connected our monitoring devizes. By now, he was awake enough to talk to us so we asked if he’d taken any drugs. He denied taking anything so we got driving to hospital.

Back through the security gates to the main gate where they had to find two officers who would escort him to hospital. This meant signing them all out, as well as us and handcuffing them all together. This took quite a while considering he was so unwell, but we didn’t argue – we understood.

So, I got driving to the hospital, which was a good 23 miles away. Nice and steady to start with but then I hear some commotion in the back. There’s only a small hatch between the cab and the back of the ambulance so I couldn’t really see what was happening, but with that, my crew mate popped his head through the hatch and said “keep us moving mate”, which is code for “put the lights and sirens on and don’t stop”. So, I blued the 20 minute drive through the traffic of two small towns and a city until we arrived at the hospital.

It wasn’t until after we’d handed him over to the nurses and doctors I found out what had happened to cause such a stir: He blood pressure and heart rate began rapidly dropping to the point where my colleague believed his heart would stop. He was given various drugs to maintaining a level to keep him alive but he was rapidly deteriorating. He may survive, he may have to be sedated and put into intensive care, he may die, I don’t know. But people take these drugs for a quick ‘high’ and end up critically unwell.

Just to show how commonplace this is in prisons, as we were on the way to hospital, I heard a broadcast over the radio for an emergency in the same prison for another inmate who was fitting after taking Spice…

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Ambulance Crew – A Basic Survival Guide

So, you’re thinking of joining the Ambulance Service. Have a seat, make a cuppa, and I’ll tell you what you need to know to survive being an Ambulance Person.

One of the most important things to realise about working for the Ambulance Service, is that it’s not all blood and guts. In fact, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen any guts, or brains, or body parts that should be inside the body. A large amount of our work is medical complaints; chest pain; shortness of breath; abdominal pain; strokes; headaches etc. There’s also a very large portion of mental health and social concern cases. Because of that, you need my number one rule:

  • Be able to talk to anyone.

I once heard a Paramedic of 30 years say he could talk to anyone with an asshole. I thought he was joking, but actually, this is a skill you need to have. As you become more experienced and knowledgable, you’ll be able to talk about more specialist medical things, but first, being able to talk and not being scared of you own shadow is a good start. This brings me to point number two.

  • Trust in your training.

You’ll turn up to your first emergency call wearing the uniform of thousands before you and be expected to know what you are doing. Have faith, you won’t be on your own (hopefully) and your basic training will kick in, no matter what the call is. For a newbie, it’s all about A B C and not doing any harm. Increased skills and knowledge will come along in time. You won’t be expected to attend (by which I mean sit in the back of the ambulance and treat on the way to hospital) a very unwell patient, so you’ll be driving the truck more than your crew mate, and so:

  • ALWAYS drive to the condition of your patient.

During your driver training, you’re taught to drive as fast as it is safe to go. In reality, when driving a 6 tonne ambulance through narrow city streets with a seriously unwell patient in the back, speed is the last thing you want. Smoothness is the key! I learnt that very early on after a bollocking from my crew mate who nearly fell to the floor while treating an unwell child in the back of the ambulance while I drove on blues to the hospital. These vehicles do not handle well, they wallow around every corner and feel every bump! You’ll be thankful of this advice when the time comes for your crew mate to drive you to A&E with a patient in the back.

  • Support your crew mate

You’re with them for 12 hours (or likely more) a day in a very small space, during sometimes some very emotionally charged scenes. Unless the clinical decision is dangerous, always support your crew mate. It looks unprofessional to argue on scene and will create a difficult working environment for the two of you. You can always talk it out after you’ve dropped the patient off at A&E. I’ve done shifts with people I really haven’t liked, I’m talking about proper dicks, but when it came to the clinical stuff, you need to work together, especially when time is critical. Which brings me to point 5:

  • Don’t panic!

It will be tempting. You’ll have to stop and take a few deep breaths, you’re ears will be ringing and your vision narrows, you’ll feel your own heart punching you in the chest, your legs will feel weak and your brain will be moving so fast you’ll forget your own name. This will happen the first time you come across something serious like a horrific car crash. And subsequent times after that. Don’t worry about it, but don’t let it affect your care. Even the most experienced medics have that surge of adrenaline during incidents like this. The key is to take your time with things: like a swan – calm and smooth above water, but underneath paddling like fuck!! Your colleagues will be excellent and you’ll fit into the team. You’ll either know what to do, or be told what to do – both are absolutely fine.

  • You’ll have memories, good and bad

No need to elaborate too much here. You’ll see some of the funniest, strangest and most heartwarming things doing this job. You’ll also see things that will steal sleep from you, give you flashbacks and haunt you. You need to be ready for that. Take comfort in the fact that you won’t be alone, and there are support networks in place.

 

 

This list isn’t exhaustive, there are hundreds of survival tips I could throw at you, but that would make a very long post indeed.

Now probably the most important rule of all:

  • Never, I mean NEVER pass up the opportunity to go to the toilet. You might not see another one for 8 hours! (That ‘drive to the patient’s condition’ rule will soon go out the window when driving to hospital with a bladder the size of a small continent fit to burst!!)

This really is the best job in the world. The government won’t ever appreciate what we do, senior managers will alter your terms to make 12 hours seem harder and harder in the name of ‘efficiency’. You’ll miss your family and friends, spend Christmas Day in the houses of strangers and your body clock won’t know what hour of the day it is. But really, this job is like no other – you’re trusted with people’s lives, you offer relief to those who are anxious and ease the pain of those in need.

It’s not for everyone, but if you can stomach it, do it!

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Terrified Out of Hours Service

If you need the Police in an emergency, you call 999. If you need to contact the Police for any other business that isn’t life threatening or dangerous, you can call 101.

Similarly, if you need an Ambulance for a medical life or death emergency, you call 999. If you need non-urgent medical advice, you can call 111.

111 is a private contract that is split into dozens of sectors across the county. So the company that answers a 111 call in Devon will be a different company from the one that answers a call in Birmingham.

The tag line for 111 is that you can ring for medical advice……but we few in the Ambulance Service no this is rubbish!

We know this because we have attended people’s addresses, using blue lights and sirens to get there, when they have rang 111 to ask some advice about medication and they have triaged it as appropriate for an ambulance!

Let me explain. When you call the Ambulance Service on 999, you get through to a non-clinical call taker called an Emergency Medical Dispatcher. There medical knowledge is no better than that of a good first aider, but they use a robust triaging system to quickly and effectively decide if the call is immediately life threatening, or can be given a lower priority in order to allow precious ambulance resources to attend the most serious calls first (if you’ve read my blog, you’ll know that people do ring 999 for very un-serious things!).

When you ring 111, you get through to a non-clinical call taker who has in front of them, a screen with a series of questions to ask, your answers to these questions determine what the recommended care pathway is; self care, telephone call with a Nurse, visit and out of hours Doctor, or they can dispatch an ambulance. You don’t get advice when you ring 111, you get triaged!

I should note here, that sometimes, people ring 111 when 999 would have been entirely appropriate – I’ve attended 111 calls where the patient is barely breathing, where a child has a broken leg and a man was having a massive heart attack! My ‘beef’ is when 111 send us to calls that we don’t need to be at:

An elderly man had been suffering a nasty cough for 3 days, his wife thought he had a chest infection, so, one Sunday morning, she rang 111 to speak to a Doctor about getting some antibiotics. She was bombarded with dozens of questions about everything from whether his was bleeding from his anus or if he’d travelled to Africa and may have contracted Ebola. Eventually, 111 told her they would send an Ambulance. This terrified this poor old lady, she thought her husband only had a chest infection, but in fact, he must be seriously ill if they’re sending a blue light ambulance!

-We get the call “85 year old male, Chest Pain and Short of Breath” it’s coded as a Red 2, which is the code for the life threatening calls. So, we do our thing – blue lights, sirens and radio coms – arrive at the address to find our gentleman in bed most definitely not short of breath and not complaining of any chest pain at all .

We get told the story by his wife, and to my ears, it sounds like he has a chest infection and needs to speak to a Doctor about getting some antibiotics. We give him a thorough check over with all the tests to rule out a heart attack, severe infection/blood poisoning, shock or other concerning stuff and it was all fine. So we rang the out of hours Doctors (we have a special number that we can use to directly request a Doctor) to arrange for a home visit.

Time taken for us to drive to the address, assess the patient, complete the paperwork and wait for a callback from a Doctor: 55 minutes.

Time speaking with a Doctor (who agreed with my medical impression): 4 minutes.

That was an hour that an emergency ambulance was unavailable because somehow, that man’s chest infection triaged as an immediate life threat.

This isn’t an isolated incident, sadly. Here’s a list of calls that I’ve been sent on where people have rang 111 and unexpectedly ended up with a blue light ambulance. Ready?

  • Lady wanting to know if she can take Aspirin for a headache
  • Man who hurt his hand three weeks ago and wanted some pain relief
  • Lady with a painful elbow (we were told she was having a stroke)
  • Man who’s back was sore after bending to pick up some laundry (came to us as chest pain)
  • Baby who had a cough and parents wanted some advice
  • Earache

And the absolutely pinnacle in my extensive experience of inappropriate calls:

41 year old man who rang 111 in the middle of the night to see if there was a late night pharmacy anywhere where he could buy some cough syrup. For his cough. This coded as a Red 2 for Chest Pain.

Every single one of those was appropriate for 111. These people did exactly what they should have done, and yet, they each ended up with an ambulance being sent to their houses with blue lights flashing. I didn’t need to take any of these people to hospital,but if you look, that’s at least 7 hours of my time taken up with nonsense. 7 hours during which time someone may be having a stroke, someone may have fallen down the stairs and been found unconscious, there may have been a serious car crash where someone is trapped, someone’s baby may have stopped breathing.

All we can do is report it back, but bare in mind, if you ring the out of hours provider in your area, it may be more than advice that you get!

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