Busy night for West Norfolk’s ambulance crews on New Year’s Eve

Lynn News journalist Victoria Fear reports on an ambulance crew's shift.
Lynn News journalist Victoria Fear reports on an ambulance crew's shift.
Have your say

Delivering a baby, helping a stroke victim and treating broken bones as a result of a party game were all part of a busy New Year’s Eve for West Norfolk’s ambulance crews.

When the clock struck midnight and most people were seeing in the new year with a drink, scores of paramedics and emergency care assistants were dealing with tense situations.

It was a busy night for crews in West Norfolk who dealt with 125 calls with a further 151 on New Year’s Day.

The East of England ambulance service has come under fire due to issues with waiting times but I found the crews of West Norfolk’s ambulances to be committed and passionate.

I tailed three crews between noon and 1am on New Year’s Eve and heard about some of the issues faced by the service, which include 999 calls as people are unable to pick up television remote controls or for treatment for colds along with drunks throwing kebabs or punches at the ambulances.

But despite this reaction and working long hours, the crews remain dedicated and compassionate towards their patients.

Sarah Dack, an emergency care assistant at the Hunstanton station, said: “You are going to someone who is potentially having the worst day of their lives but you can go in and make a difference. I always try to get a smile from a patient.”

Student paramedic Colin Murden and ECA Alan Cockburn had already had a busy morning by the time I had joined them at midday after helping Simone Ward deliver baby Chloe at her home in Gayton at 9.45am.

Colin said: “It is not a regular call to deliver a baby. It was my third baby this year.”

This wasn’t a bad start for Alan’s first morning on the job. He had finally landed his dream job after more than two years of applying.

Alan said: “I begged to get this job. I’m nearly 50 and I really wanted this job. I like working with people and helping them.”

Within a few minutes of joining them on shift, we were called to Swaffham on reports that a pensioner had been knocked over by a car.

As we made our way through Lynn on blue lights, it soon became apparent some of the problems faced by paramedics.

Colin said: “It can be hard getting through the town especially if you get a job in rush hour when everywhere is clogged up. It can be slow going.

“One of the worst areas is Gayton Road and Gaywood.

“Most people are forward thinking and looking in their mirrors. The worst problem for us is not the car in front of us but the car ahead of them. They can’t see us as the car in front is blocking their view.”

When we arrived on scene a woman was sitting in a chair, covered in a blanket and cared for by police officers.

Colin immediately examined the woman’s neck and back before she was moved into the ambulance while he went to look at the damage to the car to piece together what had happened.

While in the back of the ambulance, Colin and Alan continued the examination by asking further questions to check that she did not have a head injury along with checking an injured ankle.

After the incident, which took up to an hour, Colin went on to fill in the paperwork which highlights what treatment the paramedics have given to a patient.

He said: “I established very quickly that she was talking and alert. She had good cognitive responses so I was happy for her to make her way home. I always ask if they want to go to hospital.”

As the ambulance was in the Swaffham area, our next call was to Foulden to transport a pensioner who had been urgently referred to Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital by his GP.

Crews cannot leave their patients until they have been booked in, which is becoming quicker.

Colin said: “The QEH seems to have adopted a new system which speeds us through. We speak to a co-ordinator who sends us straight to a cubicle. They seem to be moving people around better than they were at one time.”

I then said goodbye to Colin and Alan as their shift came to an end and then tailed paramedic Owen Bottle and ECA Sarah Dack.

Owen swapped life on the postal round for the ambulances more than 27 years ago. He became a paramedic shortly after the role had been introduced in the early 1990s.

During that time he has seen many changes including new technology and how the service has become busier.

He said: “I like the variety of not knowing what you are going to do when you start work. The only thing you know for sure in this job is what time you are going to start.”

We were called to Dersingham after a woman had began to suffer heart and breathing problems.

After making the patient feel at ease, the pair brought the woman onto the ambulance and ran an ECG, which records the heart’s electrical activity. Paramedics are able to email these scans directly to hospitals ahead of the arrival of the patient. They then transferred her to the hospital.

As Owen and Sarah’s shift was drawing to a close, I joined Paul Chittock, a paramedic of 20 years, and ECA Jaynie Sheen, who was embarking on her fourth shift and aims to become a paramedic.

Jaynie, who has moved from working in private ambulance company to the trust, said: “It is really challenging and every day is different. It is a lot of hard work and not just running around on blue lights. Some of the more rewarding jobs you go to are helping to pick an elderly person off the floor.”

After refuelling and re-stocking the ambulance, we were initially called to Wisbech to provide cover while another crew was on a job.

But as we made our way there another job came in to help a man suffering from pain in the abdomen and neck.

After helping the man into the ambulance, they ran a host of tests before deciding to take him into the QEH’s accident and emergency department for further tests.

The department was unusually quiet having seen just 16 patients between 6pm and 9pm.

As the pair made their way back to the hospital’s ambulance station and received just a smell of the fish and chips, which were being provided as a treat for the on-call crews by Jean Smith, when the radios went off and another job came in.

They were called to an elderly woman in Lynn with slurred speech, which is an indicator of a stroke. Strokes are a bleed or blood clot on the brain. In certain cases the clot can be dissolved thanks to drugs.

A rapid response vehicle was already on the scene and after some initial checks, the woman was brought onto the ambulance for further tests.

An ECG was run and after her blood sugars were found to be low, the patient was given glucose gel. The brain requires glucose to operate.

Paul had also contacted the hospital to ensure that the specialist stroke nurses had been informed as time is key in suspected cases such as this.

He said: “When I started heart attacks and strokes were sadly something you had to live with. Now quicker scans, better drugs and treatment has increased the patient’s chances.

“Cases like this is what we are here for. Non-emergency calls can delay us getting to the strokes and heart attacks.

“I know we have got a slating for response times but if people did not ring in for coughs, colds and minor things they can go to a surgery for we would stand half a chance to get to the things we need to.”

Finally they were able to return to base for a well earned fish and chip supper followed by trifle expertly prepared by Mrs Smith, known as Ma.

For the last six years, she has been giving up her new year’s eve to ensure the ambulance crews get a treat on a busy evening. Throughout the year, she raises money for the supper by baking cakes. For just £50 she ensures the crews are cared for.

She said: “My son Carl is a paramedic. I enjoy doing it and it is a nice gesture.”

But there was not much time for a break as they were called to the coast on reports that a woman had fallen.

While travelling along the A149 with their blue lights on, a hitchhiker put out his thumb for a lift and appeared disappointed that an ambulance on a 999 call would not stop.

Once they had arrived at the scene, the pair found the woman had hurt her arm during a game of Twister. When the clock hit midnight, the pair were administering pain relief before putting the woman’s injured arm in the sling and moving her to the ambulance for further tests.

She was then given some more pain relief before tackling the long bumpy journey to the busier accident and emergency department at 1am.