At the end of my dad’s long life, when – like so many others – he was lost in the fog of dementia, he had a bad fall. His carer called for an ambulance. Within a short time, paramedics were on hand, who took him to hospital where he was treated. I am still grateful to them. Their support, professionalism and compassion were beyond price.
Similar sentiments were expressed last year at the Swanage Community Awards Ceremony about the town’s Ambulance Car Team.
Those nominating the team for an award said of the paramedics “they go beyond the realms of their job description with the care they provide on a regular basis, at all times of the day and night”.
The successful campaign to retain the Swanage and Purbeck Ambulance Car, led by Swanage councillor Debby Monkhouse, drew upon many testimonies from residents and visitors whose lives – or the lives of those dear to them – had been saved by the town’s paramedics.
Yet recently, here in Swanage, and nationwide, paramedics felt they had no alternative but to withdraw their services.
Like the nurses, ambulance staff were lauded during the pandemic. Boris Johnson said “they’re heroes, heroes, heroes, heroes”. But their well evidenced concerns about patient safety, staffing shortages and lack of capacity – the results of years of underfunding and studied neglect – have been shamefully ignored.
The strikes – and more may yet come – reflect despair by professionals at the near collapse of healthcare across the UK, and the appalling conditions faced by frontline crews. SWAST – South West Ambulance Trust – staff say their fight is not about money but about the future of a broken NHS.
Testimonies from Purbeck residents and visitors confirm that even those in dire need wait long and miserable hours for a SWAST ambulance to arrive. A Freedom of Information request, obtained by the Swanage News at the start of this year, showed that the average waiting time for even the most urgent life-threatening cases was more than double what it should be in Swanage.
No wonder one SWAST paramedic is quoted as saying “the NHS has gone beyond breaking point. People are dying waiting for an ambulance”.
Ambulance car staff spend hours waiting outside hospitals with very ill patients, waiting for beds – too many of which are ‘blocked’ by older, frail, patients who have nowhere to go as a result of the crisis in social care. Locally, one-third of Poole Hospital’s beds are blocked for this reason.
Pay, certainly, is an issue. The Nuffield Trust says that this year ambulance workers may see their pay fall to around 4 per cent behind inflation. But one in four surveyed by the trust said they would leave their role as soon as they could find another job. They would do so because they felt they could no longer provide an adequate service for patients.
Far from being ‘greedy’ or ‘unreasonable’ health workers are striking to save our NHS. They should be supported by us all.
Chair, Swanage & Rural Purbeck Labour Party