'I didn't train to see people die', paramedic reveals pressures driving workers to strike

7 December 2022, 20:02 | Updated: 7 December 2022, 20:03

Paramedic highlights 'real emergency' after he was only paramedic on to cover population of 1million

Melissa Fleur Afshar

By Melissa Fleur Afshar

1 million people often have to share one paramedic between them, this paramedic says revealing pressures persuading ambulance workers to strike.

"I didn't train to do this job just to see people die," Matt in Islington, a newly-trained paramedic, told Tom Swarbrick.

Matt is only 16 months into his role, after graduating from a 3-year qualification, and he is already contemplating "leaving the NHS" and moving his skills over to "another country".

After seeing the media attack the ambulance workers' reasons for striking to pay disputes, this exhausted paramedic shared the reasons why his colleagues are striking on the 21st of December.

Matt argued that while ambulance workers deserve fairer wages, they are mainly striking to alert the government to the extremely stressful and unsustainable conditions in which they work, where "1 million people" often have to share one paramedic between them.

"I think that [the media's] reality is different to what I am seeing day in and day out," said Matt.

"The reason why we are striking is different to what the experts are saying, the corporate end of the NHS is in tatters and they are running [the NHS] like nothing is going on!"

The paramedic then went on to paint a shocking picture of the dire straits that the NHS's ambulance service has found itself in.

In his account of what being on the frontline of the NHS's ambulance service is like, Matt revealed that he can sometimes be the sole paramedic responsible for an entire county's care.

He explained that brutal staff shortages mean that he has sometimes been the only paramedic on shift for an area with a population of 1 million people or over.

"Last week, I was the only paramedic on shift," said Matt in despair.

"...And there were only 3 ambulances. I was the only paramedic on [that shift] for that million-people area. There were 3 ambulances, but I was the only paramedic signing on in that area," continued the paramedic.

READ MORE: Thousands of ambulance workers set to walk out over pay dispute in fresh strike

Matt explained that the extreme shortages are to blame for why average ambulance wait times have been so long in recent months.

"[In the area that I work in], for a C2 incident [a heart attack or stroke] you could be waiting up for 4 hours," said Matt.

The paramedic then said that the way the NHS tends to manage the staff shortages is by bringing in paramedics and other staff from other areas of the country, to little avail.

"Let's take the South Coast for example," said Matt "for Surrey alone, there were 5 ambulances on shift [in this scenario], with maybe 2 paramedic crews for the whole area".

Matt then opened up about another job that he was on, a lower category of call where the patient he was tending to was stable.

"I heard a broadcast go over the radio for a cardiac arrest," said Matt.

"They were running a crew from 50 minutes away for the cardiac arrest. If myself and another ambulance crew hadn't offered ourselves up for that job, there would have been only one paramedic on scene by himself for at least 40 minutes before someone else arrived."

Matt told LBC that in situations where there are only 3 ambulance crews serving one county at a time, up to 2 of the ambulances can often consist of lower-grade staff that aren't fully-trained paramedics that can handle life-threatening incidents.

Matt explained that the unions don't reveal the truth of the paramedics' pressures in an attempt to "not put people off calling [999]".

The paramedic explained that it would be less harrowing for the public to hear that there are 130,000 vacancies in the ambulance service, as opposed to the reality of what a typical shift can be like.

READ MORE: Elderly people who fall over at home 'unlikely to get an ambulance' amid Christmas NHS strikes

"I think that we need to be realistic. The unions are doing an amazing job, but I want to highlight the real emergency that people are dying day in and day out, and I have seen it first hand."

When asked by Tom Swarbrick if he'd be striking too, Matt responded that while he himself won't be joining other ambulance workers on the 21st of December, he would have "loved to".

The ambulance workers have opted for coordinated industrial action while the nation is already grappling with rail strikes, nursing strikes, and Royal Mail strikes.