'Everything is jam tomorrow'

Pressure on paramedics is insurmountable

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“Pressures on our ambulance members are unprecedented with the profession not currently being given the correct guidance as to whom they should take to hospital,” said Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, national officer for health.

“They are also not being given the correct level of personal protective equipment (PPE) if they suspect a patient has Covid-19.  Ambulance workers are putting their health, perhaps their lives, at risk, by not receiving the correct PPE and also by not receiving the correct fit test training to wear the PPE,” he added. 

According to a report by the Telegraph manufacturers and textile companies say vital personal protective equipment (PPE) are being loaded into lorries and shipped to Germany, Spain and Italy, despite crippling shortages for our NHS workers.

Trade unions have called for an independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the PPE crisis. It is thought a lack of PPE has contributed to the deaths of over 100 health and care staff so far in the battle against Covid-19.

Stark and very serious

“On top of this, the lack of testing remains a stark and very serious issue – there are not enough tests to ensure ambulance staff are tested within the five-day window for testing,” said Jarrett-Thorpe.

“Unite is urgently calling for ambulance workers to be given clear guidance regarding triaging which patients should be taken to hospital and more action on PPE which needs to be supplied to paramedics, so they are able to do their essential duties,” he added.

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Debbie Wilkinson

Debbie Wilkinson is a paramedic with the Yorkshire Ambulance Service and Chair of Unite’s national ambulance committee.

“Everything is jam tomorrow. It will come but next week. There’s also huge difference in levels of PPE between different trusts,” said Wilkinson.

“Three to four weeks ago we were only seeing the odd case of Covid-19. Now almost every case we are called to is Covid,” she added.

The pressure on paramedics is insurmountable. There are staff shortages where Covid has wiped out numbers of staff and less support where managers and supervisors have had to go back out on the road as paramedics to make up these shortages.

“In my trust about 35 per cent of staff are self-isolating because either they or a family member have symptoms. If we were doing more testing it would get these people back out on the road quicker and relieve a lot of pressure,” said Wilkinson.

“Getting people back to work quicker should be a priority,” she added.

Life and death decisions

Paramedics are having to make life and death decisions. They are the first health care professional to assess patients and they must immediately decide whether the patient is likely to be Covid-19 positive before they begin any treatment.

“Paramedics are terrified of making the wrong call and being sanctioned for this. Even having to decide which level of PPE to put on is stressful,” said Wilkinson.

The sudden death rate is the highest it has been in more than 20 years. Possibly because people are not seeking medical attention as quickly because of fear of over burdening the health service during this pandemic or fear of contracting the virus by attending a hospital or practice surgery.

“This virus is like nothing else we have seen before. It is a learning curve for us all,” said Wilkinson.

“We are used to knowing what we are dealing with but Covid, it is almost the opposite of what we are used to. People can look well but their oxygen levels can be saturated. Usually with very low oxygen levels people look very poorly,” she added.

Tomorrow (Tuesday 28 April) on International Workers Memorial day the nation will fall silent at 11.00 as a mark of respect and gratitude to all of the NHS and key workers who have lost their lives fighting Covid-19.

Last week tributes were paid to Unite member Gerallt Davies, the first member of the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust to die with Covid-19.

*Don’t forget the minute’s silence tomorrow April 28, at 11 am to remember coronavirus victims who lost their lives serving on the front line. And as trade union members can’t make their usual tribute and remembrances to lost colleagues together in person, why not join in an online collective moment of remembrance and solidarity at 2 pm? Speakers include TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Unite executive council member and London bus driver, James Mitchell. Register here

By Jody Whitehill

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