Sunday, 22 May 2011

Help yourselves

Here’s some information for you if you are the type of person who calls for an emergency ambulance, especially on a very busy weekend night when we have important drunk calls to attend. If you think the call will just disappear because you decided you didn’t want to wait any longer and just want to go to bed instead – ignoring your ‘phone when it rings and forcing us to speak to your voicemail… then you are wrong.

An ambulance will still be sent to your door and will arrive at three, or four or five in the morning. The crew will knock on your door until you wake up and they will do their job, as required by you, the tax-paying patient with the broken fingernail.

Arguably, if your call wasn’t important enough for you to wait up for us to arrive, then I suggest it wasn’t important enough for a 999 call in the first place.

If it is an emergency then be there, ready and waiting for when the crew arrive. Answer your phone if we call you back to chat about delays or whatever is wrong with you… and feel free to ring us back and let us know that you no longer need us because you went to A&E by taxi in the end.

If you need a doctor and it’s late or it’s the weekend, you don’t need to call us because there are docs out there, contracted to deal with you at all hours, every single day. They are called Out of Hours doctors and to get to them, all you have to do is ring up your local GP and the answerphone message will tell you that they are closed (surprise) and that the Out of Hours Service can be contacted on… and Bingo, there’s your number. Call them and tell them what’s wrong with you unless you truly believe your condition is potentially life-threatening… then you should dial 999.

If everyone in London stuck to these simple rules, we’d have much less trouble and fewer delays when sending emergency ambulances to those who really need us – like the elderly who fall and need help getting up or need their wounds dressed. When you inundate your ambulance service with trivial nonsense and make demands and exercise your ‘rights’, someone’s mum or grandfather has to lie on a cold floor for hours (and I mean hours) until we can free up a crew to go and help them. If it was your mother, you’d be furious, wouldn’t you?

Of course, you could (and probably will) ignore this advice because you believe it is your God-given right to call an ambulance when you have vomited or have a slight temperature… or have just smoked cannabis and ‘feel a bit funny’. In that case, this post becomes no more than an oblivious instruction to your brain.

And I know that most, if not all of the people who read this blog already know this stuff and never abuse their emergency service. I’m aiming it at those for whom this will be leaked out and spread around. Maybe it’ll make a dent.

Be safe.


Anonymous said...

So here is something I feel the urge to tell you for a very long time. I've already written some other comment in here in which I'd debated why it is still our responsibility to get after annyoing hyperventilating girls and other persons who are desperately in need of attention adn who - at least by your definition - take our time to care about more urgent affairs. I have been working (as a nurse and a paramedic) with a lot of people handling this job with cynisism. I have always felt that these people have chosen the wrong job or that they're simply burned out. Because this job feels unfair and sucks so much sometimes. It's not right for you though, if you hit the ball right back to the audience: They don't know better, they don't want to know better, they smoke and drink and go away because the ambulance takes too long and they do stuff one shouldn't do and they "waste" our time with silly calls. You need to handle this with a smile, being cynical (which is at the very base sarcasm in a much more despisable way) is not good for you. Of course, everybody has a bad day. But if you are working with patients while feeling all this hatred towards them and their wrong behaviour and you feel that way every day, I don't get why you do this anymore. You sound so annoyed by it.
I don't know you well enough (actually not at all) to assume that this is how you do it. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm looking forward to some answers.
Because whenever I felt like being cynical, I felt like I have been going too far, given too much and needed a break to get politically correct again.

jkaa said...

Welcome back...

Anonymous said...

well said, i live in small town but the same problems here as well.everyone thinks they need an ambulance for anything at all.Made worse by the rural area covered as well

Fiz said...

How about the LAS charging for call that do not really require emergency treatment? (Still think of you all, Stuart).

joan said...

Quite agree with you Stuart! just by watching documentaries, you can see how many calls are actually emergencies!!
take care joan

Kath said...

And, please, I'd like to add, especially if they live in a terraced street when it is dark?
Leave your hall light on, so they know which house to go to. Or, the paramedic may knock on number 40, instead of number 39, and then give me a mouthful when I sleepily go down to answer at 3am, after a several minutes of "It's probably a drunk, they'll go away in a minute"

And it says something about the caller that as soon as I could get a word in past the understandably pissed off paramedic, it was "You don't want 39 by any chance do you? Because that's across the road, this is number 40"

Alexander said...

As an EMT in NYC, we're happy to have NYPD or an FDNY rescue unit come and take the door down if we're unable to make patient contact.

Occasionally we'll get cancelled en route because the original caller called back and told them that they didn't need us anymore.

Anonymous said...

welcome back!

Xf said...


Maybe you should ask some of my readers, some of them know me personally and will tell you that I am not what you think I am. You are judging my writing the way you think I am judging my patients.

First off, most of my profession feels the same... it's not about HATING anyone, it's about becoming a paramedic to help ill people, not to pander to time wasters and weaklings. This is the way I was brught up... and you DO, in fact, need people like me in this job. If I wasn't calling people back and telling them to find another way to deal with their toothache or sore face, then some little old lady having a stroke will die waiting for an ambulance.

I am a cynic but I am a professional cynic.

Anonymous said...

I don't know Xf and I am not a paramedic, however if I could add this. Being compassionate does not mean giving a person what they want. Xf has addressed a real problem and has every right to be frustrated. This does not mean he is without compassion, it could well show his compassion for patients with serious and urgent need. He is speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. If everyone who burned a souffle called the fire department while other homes were going up in flames with innocent victims inside, I doubt anyone would call the fireman who said it had to stop unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

Nice to have you back.

whitesmar said...

IMHO, a bit of First Aid and medical conditions should be taught in school. Not to any huge standard, but just so that people have a better idea of what is urgent, what isn't and what to do in the former case (and the latter, for that matter).

We now have 3-4 generations who have no idea of medical/injury interaction, except for those who voluntarily study in their own time. (I'm one of both of those.) They've not had to help Mum look after Granddad with his ailments.

In the UK, with HASAWA, there are many fewer injuries and chronic illnesses caused at work.

People simply do not have the expertise/experience their (?great) grandparents had.

People can learn only by education or experience. As even vicarious experience is less common than it used to be, we need to use education.

Perhaps the ambulance could then deal with the REAL emergencies.

Anonymous said...

Here in US, patients are charged for ambulance service, anywhere from $450 USD to over $2000 USD. It deters a percent of frivolous calls, but not all. It also makes the elderly or disabled hesitant to ever call.
Even if it were free, I would have to have blood squirting uncontrollably or leg bone sticking out before dialing for an ambulance but I can imagine being more likely to want to play it safe for a loved one.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised that the first person to reply is a paramedic who mentioned the 'annoying hyperventilating girls', and I'm actually surprised that YOU didn't mention them in the original post as they seem to be a source of irritation for you guys..

I get heart palpitations and usually they're something I can handle. I had them checked out years ago and was told they're just premature ventricular contractions - no big deal, probably stress related. However, last summer they appeared to get completely out of hand and I found myself lying on the floor with my hands over my heart at work. I was very insistent that I didn't want an ambulance and was mortified when my superiors ignored me and decided I needed one. (I work for NHS Direct so this shouldn't have happened - my superiors should have recognised that my condition was in no way life threatening and that I probably needed some air, but unfortunately the sight of me lying down, breathing heavily, impaired their judgement. Incidentally, their panic made my palpitations worse.)

This has happened to me twice in my life and both times I've absolutely known that the paramedics are going to be rolling their eyes about it all later on, that I'll just be considered another hyperventilating office tart who's probably short of attention or doesn't have the balls to tell their boss they're going home sick. I know that often cynicism and a dismissive attitude are how you deal with all the calls you really shouldn't be going out to and I think that's fair enough, but I think it's also fair to say - that attitude is sometimes made obvious anyway. I KNEW that the paramedics who came to my aid considered it to be a waste of time, it was obvious from their demeanour. Those people called the ambulance for me with the best of intentions. To them, the heart is the on/off button of the machine and if it's malfunctioning that's not good. They don't know as much as you do. They only know that calling an ambulance is probably better at guessing what to do. I'd be interested to know how you feel about the 'annoying hyperventilating girls' because, well, I am one.

It's probably more difficult than I know to keep your real feelings about a call under wraps while you deal with it. When I was seventeen I went to hospital with deep self-inflicted wounds. I was a troubled kid. The doctor sewing me up told me he resented having to waste his time on people who weren't interested in life and that if I wanted to kill myself next time I should throw myself under a train. Perhaps from his perspective I was just a pathetic, maudlin idiot and my wounds were only superficial compared to others he'd dealt with that day, but for me it was a clear message: 'we don't care about you here - you're just an inconvenience to us'.

Xf said...


Almost everyone who wishes to attack my personal view uses 'anonymous' when they do so. I use my real name, so that I am transparent about myself, even though I am a cynic.

However, let's get this straight; I don't feel contempt for anyone and heart palpitations can be a scary and potentially dangerous thing.

Our concept (and not all of my colleagues are 'disinterested')of a call that is a waste of our time is brought about by years of seeing the same things, with the same outcomes, whilst balancing that with numerous old people lying for hours on the floor of their filthy hovels because 'breathing fast' is seen as more of an emergency than their plight.

It is also borne out of watching the helpless die because we got there a few minutes too late as the direct result of mass panic over hyperventilation.

This is NOT about attacking individuals, such as yourself, it is a damning indictment on ignorance. Yes, we do know more but what is stopping you and your colleagues from learning about it too?

Every person in this country should take a first aid course and a course on basic anatomy and physiology. It would alleviate the burden on us, the patients who need us, and the tax payers of this country.

In almost every post I publish, there will be a reason for someone to criticise what I say, and make me and my colleagues look like heartless fiends. It doesn't matter what I write about, there is always room for a justified person to swing at it.

Your doctor was wrong to say what he did out loud but perfectly right to have those private thoughts, but mental health issues should never be treated in A&E; that is the fault of a flawed system and we are currently trying to change that for the better. In defence of that remark, which he should not have said to you, he has probably seen too many young people die who didn't deserve to and didn't want to... then he has to treat someone who deliberately planned to kill themselves. He is human.

You've had a rough time obviously but let me tell you this; a lot of us have. I had a terribly violent youth; I still have the scars to prove it. Not once did I consider taking my own life or harming myself, but everyone deals with their pain in different ways I guess.

So, please consider another point of view, just as I consider my critics.

Tea For Two said...

I appreciate your reply and I definitely believe the doctor who made the remark was entitled to have it in private. (I've felt similar things doing what I do, obviously - as a health advisor I have a lot of similar feelings when it comes to rating people's need to be on the phone, speaking with a nurse etc. I'm also human.)

I'm at a loss as to why you've described my comments as an 'attack' though. There's no nuance of intentional attack in there at all - it's just an instigation of discussion in favour of the other side of the coin. I don't have an issue with other points of view, in fact it's obvious I seek them out since I've been reading your blog since its inception and haven't always agreed with your perspective but I enjoy stepping into someone else's shoes for a while and once I'm in them I find it a lot harder to judge.

Also, the anonymous thing? I don't have a blog and I'm certainly not going to link a bunch of strangers to my facebook or the like. Nothing sinister going on there. :)

I've noticed you've critiqued Sirens so I'm off to read that now.

Tea For Two said...

As an aside, reading your reply was the first time I'd ever considered the now rather obvious fact that A&E shouldn't be taking on mental health patients. It is a flawed system, clearly, and it's funny how I've spent the last fifteen years thinking of it as the only way.

Xf said...

Tea for two

That's a fair response and so I apologise for accusing you of an attack. I am intent on rooting out those who use anonymous and then go on just to say stupidly spiteful and nonsensical things because that is what they do for life.

You appear to be a different fruit, so yes, carry on debating things with me, it's what I'm asking people to do.