I’ve spoken to a number of NHS Scotland staff about conditions in the NHS and the potential for strike action. I’ll present the interview without commentary, providing you only with the questions and answers in order to let the words speak for themselves.
Kevin Graham, not his real name as the nature of his job means he must remain anonymous, has been a paramedic in the Scottish Ambulance Service for just over a decade.
What’s the mood in the ambulance service?
“As paramedics, we frequently work without breaks, as warned by the national care watchdog, so I’d say “burned-out’. As some senior managers fail to comprehend or address the issues we express, we frequently leave each shift feeling disappointed and exhausted. It almost seems as though the potential harm to patients from delays in getting to them has been accepted.”
Could you give me an example of your working day?
“We used to return to the station between calls when I first started working in the ambulance service, but that was than ten years ago. Today, you get your first call and probably won’t return until the conclusion of your shift. Evenings are just as hectic as days; on average, you may handle eight calls, which can take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours to resolve. The profession has also moved beyond simply picking up patients and delivering them to the hospital. We also spent a lot of time hanging around outside emergency departments just waiting to get our patient in the doors.
“We witness both patients who are receiving loving care and those who are waiting to die alone.
“The fact that we don’t charge for ambulance attendances means that people are not afraid to use the service, which is beneficial in many ways. However, you will see a lot of unnecessary calls that, with a little bit of common sense, would never have been made. However, the triage system errs on the side of safety, so a cut finger is prioritised over an elderly person who is lying on the ground and still needs to be fully assessed and dealt with, which can be frustrating when you hear calls being placed. Imagine being summoned to a long-dead corpse with an infestation, getting close enough to confirm death (although the scent is a bit of a giveaway), and then eating your sandwiches while drafting your report.
“It’s one of the select few professions where you can personally improve people’s lives. But the hours are hard, 12-hour shifts are common, and the mental and physical strain you endure is significant.
“On the negative side, you will go through experiences that will affect you for the rest of your life. Ambulance workers experience post-traumatic stress at levels comparable to those of combat veterans. And others may find it difficult to understand this because there aren’t usually people trying to kill you when this happens. After a shift in which you witnessed a child die and were powerless to intervene, you will return home. When your family asks how your day was, you will say, “Nothing spectacular,” but on the inside, you will be screaming. It is one of those occupations, similar to those in the military, police, and fire brigade, where your outward appearance belies the reality, which can only be understood by those who work with you.
“When people ask me what the worst thing I have seen is, I usually tell them that it isn’t the blood and guts, but rather the situations that certain people tolerate or are left to dwell in. The majority of our work is low-key assistance for people and assisting them in finding the best care; it is becoming more of an urgent care position, and keeping people out of the hospital is starting to become the norm.”
Why do you want to strike?
“Staff members of the Scottish Ambulance Service have been working on the front lines of our public services during the height of the pandemic, all the while coping with a staffing problem and now a cost-of-living issue this winter.
“These strikes are a clear reaction to my coworkers not receiving the wage raises they deserve after years of decline in the health services they rely on. The workforce has been underappreciated, overworked, undervalued, and underpaid while being asked to fill an increasing number of holes in service delivery. All we ask is a fair wage.”
Next week I’ll be speaking to another member of staff. Do you have any suggestions for who else we could speak to? Let us know at [email protected].
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