Ambulance staff talk about unprecedented demand on the service

Plea to the public to use services wisely

North East Ambulance Service staff have spoken about the pressures they’re facing amid record 999 calls.

In October, the service took just over 114,000 NHS 111 calls and more than 55,000 emergency 999 calls. This is compared to just over 98,000 NHS 111 calls and 45,000 emergency 999 calls in 2019 – pre-pandemic.

Two members of frontline staff spoke to BBC Look North today (Thursday, 11 November) to talk about how it feels to work in the service right now.

Paramedic Elliott Tyler, aged 32, joined NEAS in 2011 and now supports frontline crews through his role as a clinical care manager, based at Monkton station.

“The past year has been really difficult in trying to work in such uncertain times, living and working in a pandemic whilst trying to protect our patients,” he said.

“We don’t know what we’re walking into every day – I could go from attending a cardiac arrest to supporting staff who have attended a serious incident and then up to hospitals to help free up crews so they can attend other patients waiting in the community.

“We ultimately want to make a difference to every patient who needs us, and the reason I come to work is to provide welfare to staff so we can provide the best possible care to patients.”

Joanna Aird joined NEAS in 2017 as a 111 health advisor, before upskilling to take 999 calls in 2018.

“It’s really busy all the time,” she said. “It can be really difficult knowing there are patients waiting, particularly when you’re speaking to someone who has called for something that isn’t an emergency as you’re conscious that a patient who really needs me is waiting to get through.

“I get abuse pretty much daily but if I could send an ambulance to everyone straight away I would. We’re just doing our job, we’re trying our best to get help to everyone as soon as possible.”

Paul Liversidge, chief operating officer for North East Ambulance Service, said: “The challenges we are currently facing have never been greater. Demands on our service have increased due to a rise in 999 and 111 calls, employee absence and the wider pressures being felt across the NHS. Covid also continues to impact on us, with longer turnaround times due to vehicle cleaning and personal protective equipment measures which remain in place.

“Our staff are working tirelessly and serve the public the best they can, and I would like to thank them all for their continued efforts in what is an incredibly challenging environment.

“It is imperative that we continue to prioritise our most vulnerable patients – the ones whose lives are most at risk – but in doing so, other patients are regrettably waiting longer than we would like.

“All clinicians who are able to respond are either out on the road or supporting patients within our Emergency Operations Centre. We are also recruiting additional health advisors to help us manage the demand we’re facing.

“Despite taking an unprecedented number of 999 calls, we’re attending fewer incidents (31,599 in October this year compared to 33,958 in October 2019) and we’re taking fewer patients to our local emergency departments than we were pre-covid. Some of this is because we’re treating more people over the phone and at home, but it also suggests some people are calling us when they could have sought help elsewhere.

“Members of the public can continue to help us by considering whether you really need a paramedic before you pick up the phone. If the answer is no, please consider alternative options such as your GP, local pharmacist or 111 online.”

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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