999 call handlers speak out about abuse
19 November 2020
South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is reminding the public to respect its people when calling 999 for an ambulance this winter.
Figures from the Trust indicate abuse against its 999 call handlers has more than doubled since the beginning of the full UK lockdown in March.
Control room staff reported 77 verbal abuse incidents from callers between 23 March and 23 October, representing a 133% increase on the 33 incidents reported during the same time period in 2019.
Ambulance staff reported a total of 289 verbal abuse incidents and 178 physical assaults during the seven months, up 21% compared with last year.
Amy, a 999 call handler based in Bristol, dealt with a rude and aggressive caller who repeatedly rang the emergency line demanding an ambulance.
To listen to an edited version of the call, click here. The caller's voice has been altered.
She said: “The caller became increasingly angry and verbally aggressive.
I sympathised with their situation, but their continual swearing and level of hostility made my job virtually impossible.
“We understand that many of our callers are worried and scared, and this fear can sometimes present itself as abusive language and an aggressive attitude.
“However, any kind of abuse makes our job even more challenging and will not be tolerated. Behaviour such as this is obstructive to a safe triage, and can hinder the giving of sometimes lifesaving instructions.
“If you ever need to call 999, please remember you are speaking to a human being who really does care and who will arrange the most appropriate and safe care.
“Please trust us, and help us to help you.”
Natasha, 999 call handler based in Exeter, was also subject to abuse from a caller.
She said: “It’s rare to get through a whole shift without someone being unpleasant or nasty. The person started shouting and swearing at me immediately. Then he became aggressive and started making personal threats to me. He needed help, but refused to answer my questions. So I couldn’t help him and had to end the call. We are not there to be abused and shouted at; we are there to help people.”
Gabrielle, another 999 call handler, said: “Not everyone who calls 999 needs an ambulance. Our resources are limited, and ambulances must be reserved for those patients most in need.
“I received a call recently from someone whose condition wasn’t life-threatening. But when I advised them to call 111, I received an unpleasant abusive outburst, which was unacceptable. My colleagues and I do our jobs because we care and genuinely want to help people, not to be sworn at and abused.”
To listen to an edited version of the call, click here. The caller's voice has been altered.
SWASFT is expecting to deal with a high number of emergency calls during the upcoming months, due to the ongoing Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic alongside winter pressures.
Although it recognises people often call 999 in difficult situations, the Trust is asking callers not to hinder its control room staff as they try to arrange help.
It also reminds people only to call 999 for an ambulance in a medical emergency when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
A SWASFT spokesperson said: “Our dedicated and compassionate emergency call handlers deal with serious and life-threatening emergencies every day, which we recognise are difficult and stressful for those people involved.
“Although the majority of callers are polite and respectful, a small minority are abusive and aggressive towards our people trying to help them.
“Such behaviour is unacceptable, and can delay or even prevent us reaching someone who really needs our care. It can also have a serious impact on them, their colleagues and families.
“We are fully committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of our people. That includes offering immediate support to anyone who experiences violence and aggression on duty. It also means taking whatever action is necessary to prevent our people from harm and keep them safe.
“Please respect our people, and help them to help you.”
Ground-breaking critical care transfer service wins regional award
25 November 2020
A pioneering South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) programme to help relieve pressure on the region’s hospitals during the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has been formally recognised.
The South West Critical Care Transfer Service has been chosen as the regional winner in The Excellence in Urgent and Emergency Care Award category of the NHS Parliamentary Awards 2020. It is now on the shortlist for the national award.
The initiative, which was piloted in April 2020, involved safely moving critically ill patients between intensive care units.
Dr Scott Grier, the South West Critical Care Network (SWCCN) Lead for Transfer, was tasked with developing the service.
He collaborated with Dr Phil Cowburn, Acute Care Medical Director for SWASFT and the Nightingale Hospital Bristol team to develop the concept bringing together components of the South West Critical Care Network (SWCCN), Great Western Air Ambulance Charity, Wiltshire Air Ambulance, and SWASFT Hazardous Area Response Team (HART).
The service utilised dedicated SWASFT vehicles, medical staff and equipment in an effort to reduce pressure on 999 ambulance resources and hospital medical teams. It was supported by a team of specialist paramedics, redeployed from the air ambulances and HART extended skills paramedics.
Although a service of this type would normally take six months to develop, it was ready to launch within a timescale of just nine days, with the first patients being transferred on 9 April 2020.
The ground-breaking service operated for four weeks before being put on standby. During that time it transported 35 patients, visiting every intensive care hospital in the Severn region (Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Swindon, Bath, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton) as well as London, Wales and Devon.
Following the success of the pilot, the concept was developed further and led to the commissioning and launch of Retrieve, a dedicated South West adult critical care transfer service, which is one of the first of its kind in England.
Retrieve, which is now hosted at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston (UHBW), will transfer adults aged 16 and above and compliments similar services for children and newborns which are also hosted by UHBW.
Dr Scott Grier, lead consultant for the Retrieve service, said: “I am delighted that the South West Critical Care Transfer Service has been nominated for an NHS Parliamentary Award.
“This service was a collaboration between the SWCCN, SWASFT and the Nightingale hospitals in the South West to deliver a new critical care transfer service to enable COVID-19 patients to be moved around our region.
“This temporary service has led to the development of Retrieve, an NHS commissioned adult critical care transfer service for the South West - one of the first in the country.
“It has been a privilege to work with a large number of colleagues and partners in the region to develop such a positive legacy from the pandemic, fundamentally changing the way critically ill and injured patients are transferring around the South West.”
Jack Lopresti, MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke, put forward the South West Critical Care Transfer Service’s nomination.
He said: “I am absolutely delighted that the South West Critical Care Transfer Service has been named a regional champion in the Excellence in Urgent and Emergency Care Award Category for the NHS Parliamentary Awards, and are on the shortlist for a national award next year.
“The service was rapidly set up over the summer and has since been vital in our region’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The staff work incredibly hard and should be very proud of their achievements this year. It was an honour to be able to nominate them for this important award.”
Paramedics urge public to get flu vaccine
26 November 2020
South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is urging people to get the flu vaccine to protect themselves and others this winter.
Flu is a very common and highly infectious disease caused by the influenza virus.
It can make people seriously ill - especially older adults, very young children and people with underlying health conditions.
SWASFT is encouraging people in the region to get protected as soon as possible to fight flu and coronavirus (Covid-19).
Eloise Pearce, a Student Paramedic based in Bournemouth said:
“I first began getting the flu vaccine six years ago when I was given a terminal prognosis and days left to live. I had anorexia nervosa, I was severely underweight, and my body had begun shutting down. I was given the vaccine to help increase my chances of survival if I did get the flu. My body would not have been able to fight the virus on its own, due to my suppressed immune system and fragile state of health.
“I am now a fully recovered anorexia nervosa survivor, and I still help others suffering from the disease. The flu vaccine gave me the best chance of survival at a time when the odds were stacked against me. Although I am now fit and healthy, I continue to get my flu vaccine to protect not only myself, but my family, friends, patients, colleagues, and other members of the public.
“This year it is especially important to be vaccinated as the nation struggles to deal from the Covid-19 pandemic. Please protect yourself and protect others.”
Sophie Shah, a Student Paramedic based in Bristol, said:
“I was diagnosed with asthma when I was age 5. It was moderate and well-controlled initially, and I was told by many people that I would likely ‘grow out of it’.
“Unfortunately this didn’t happen and instead the severity increased as I got older. I found myself getting more and more chest infections, which exacerbated my asthma and caused me to be hospitalised due to difficulty breathing. It was hard growing-up as I was unable to be as physically active as others and I missed a considerable amount of school due to flu-related illnesses.
“By getting the flu jab I was able to stop getting ill so often, take back control of my life and feel safe. This was especially the case in winter months when flu is most prevalent.
“Now, as a final year Paramedic Student, not only do I have to take care of myself, but I must protect those around me. I attend many vulnerable patients and it is my duty to ensure that I do everything I can to help them and that includes taking the flu jab to prevent these patients getting ill.
“Some people don’t get the jab, because they think it’s not needed or may even make them ill. But the vaccine contains an inactive version of the virus, so it can’t do that. People who aren’t protected can pass the flu onto others who may be very vulnerable. Many, many people die from the flu and its secondary complications each year. But a quick and easy jab can make such a difference.”
Joseph Durling, a Lead Paramedic based in Marlborough, Wiltshire, said:
“Being on the frontline of the NHS, I want to do all I can to stay well for my own sake and for others. The flu vaccine provides an easy way for anyone to protect themselves from the serious illness of influenza during the winter months.
“This winter, more than ever, we all need to do as much as possible to keep everyone well and out of hospital. There are lots of positive effects of a heavily vaccinated population, including slowing the spread of the flu virus and reducing the pressure on the wider NHS service provision.
“Getting the vaccine is something we can all do to help keep one-another safe. Over the past five years influenza has accounted for 17,000 deaths in the United Kingdom. I always take-up the yearly influenza vaccine to protect myself, patients, my family, and the NHS, of which I am proud to be a part of.”
More than 30 million people in England are being offered the flu vaccine this year, with priority being given to the most vulnerable, elderly and children. People aged 50 to 64 will be eligible for the vaccine from 1 December.
To get the flu vaccine, contact your local pharmacy or GP surgery.
For information and support regarding eating disorders, also contact your GP or the charity Beat Eating Disorders.