Have you seen the BBC series BBC series ‘Ambulance’?
If not, you really should. It takes a ‘fly on the wall’ on ambulance provision in the West Midlands, filming both in the central control centre in Brierley Hill and on the ground with crews.
For me, three things come across very clearly.
The first is what a great job the staff do in very trying circumstances, both in the Control Centre and in the field. They deal with circumstances which are upsetting because of the challenge of saving a life and which are equally disturbing because of the abuse that they encounter from callers on the phone and in situations that they enter in the field from individuals who are drunk, high on drugs or naturally violent. You have to admire those who respond to call after call all night not knowing what they will be walking into.
The second is that the strategic developments which have turned ambulance drivers into highly skilled paramedics and put doctors into responder cars are saving lives that would have been lost years ago. Whereas I grew up in an era of ambulances arriving at a house and carting a patient straight off to hospital, the crews are able to undertake increasingly successful on site interventions and stabilisations and in some cases avoid hospitalisation altogether.
The third, unfortunately, is less positive, in that it shows clearly how Solihull was right to be concerned about the Make Ready programme that closed local ambulance stations and thinned out the number of vehicles and crews in service.
The narrator tells us with high frequency how many calls are outstanding and how few crews are available to respond. We watch as an ambulance is en route to one urgent call and is diverted to another deemed even more urgent. We see a patient being carried to hospital in another vehicle asked to sit tight whilst they stop and attend to an RTA that they come across.
In one of the early episodes still available in iPlayer, a crew is sent out to Solihull to another RTA. The caller clearly says there is a car off the road in Hockley Heath and then says that it is in Old Warwick Road. Two ambulance service vehicles, a fire engine and a police car end up searching for the vehicle and the injured person inside at Old Warwick Road, Olton. Fortunately, when the incident is finally located some twenty minutes later, the victim survives. But this is a result of centralisation, where at the control centre and in the responding vehicles, local knowledge has been lost for the sake of efficiency and no-one knew there was more than the one Old Warwick Road that the IT mapping system flashed up.
I recall sitting as an observer at the Healthier Communities Scrutiny Board meetings in 2012/13 when the Make Ready scheme was being planned and the concerns about response times, sufficiency of crews and loss of local knowledge that were debated at the time. In particular, the meeting on 18 October 2012 in which the minutes recorded:
‘Scrutiny Board undertook to write to WMAS outlining further issues and concerns (some of which were brought to their attention by Solihull Ratepayers Association) as part of ensuring that Make Ready is effectively implemented in Solihull’
Those concerns are not fully assuaged.
This excellent BBC documentary illustrates comprehensively that WMAS gives an outstanding service, if they can allocate an ambulance and get it to turn up in the right place.