Paramedics have described patients being left on floors for hours and “horrendous” waits to hand people to A&E staff, as they stood on picket lines for the latest strike day in a pay dispute.
Jenny Giblin, 38, a paramedic, braved the cold in Birkenhead, Wirral, with her 16-month-old son James Evans.
She told the PA news agency: “I’ve been a paramedic for seven years and it’s definitely got worse.
“We used to have to queue outside hospitals at certain times, like with winter pressures, but now it’s every day. Corridors are almost like wards.
“Sometimes you spend a whole shift on a corridor.
“It’s demoralising. I dread coming into work sometimes because I know what’s going to happen.”
Paramedic Dave McNeill, 55, outside Birkenhead Fire and Ambulance station, said: “Sometimes you can spend eight hours waiting on a hospital corridor with one patient.
“Crews end up taking two or three patients so other crews can get back on the road, and that’s not good, in my opinion, it’s not safe.
“Sometimes you can hear a category 1 call, which is the most life-threatening, coming in and you can’t go to it because you can’t leave the patient you’re with. It’s frustrating.
“It’s a really difficult situation because the hospitals don’t have the staff. After Covid, things never really got back on track.
“People don’t enjoy going on strike. It goes against the grain of what we do this job for.”
Lisa McCabe, another paramedic in Birkenhead, said she was on strike due to the working conditions.
“It’s not unusual to stand in corridors for 12 hours without getting a break,” she said.
“It really is heartbreaking, and also we’re getting to jobs three or four hours late.
“I had an old lady who had arrested when we got there because she waited up to three hours and couldn’t breathe.
“That really shook me to the core. I was angry rather than upset.
“Staff morale used to be really good and you used to see people smile outside A&E. That doesn’t happen now and we’re losing lots of really good paramedics.
“Going on strike is the last thing we want to do but I think our voice needs to be heard.”
Outside Beechdale ambulance station in Nottingham, East Midlands Ambulance Service’s (EMAS) Nottinghamshire divisional HQ and training centre, half a dozen GMB union members were on the picket line first thing on Wednesday.
Vimal Mistry, a paramedic for seven years, said: “After the pandemic things have just got worse. People are queuing at hospitals, (queuing for) primary care.
“People can’t get appointments any more so they put off going to the doctor’s and when it gets worse they come to us.
“Staff see all this and just get run down.
“With interest rates and fuel costs going up, people just can’t afford the things they could do before.
“I’m now having to think about how much heating I have on in the house – I have it on for two hours now.”
He said waiting for hours to hand over patients to emergency departments is “horrendous” and has become far worse over the last four weeks.
Another worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said she joined EMAS as a member of ambulance support crew eight months ago, having previously worked in the control room.
She described the struggle to get to patients caused by handover delays.
She said: “From when I came in, it’s been so busy. The norm is for ambulances to wait for hours. It’s not common to be on stand-by, or waiting for a job allocation. It’s always been hard.
“It’s not pleasant getting to a job that’s possibly 24 hours old. It’s just really disheartening – going to a patient who has possibly been on the floor for 12 hours is just so disheartening.”
Staff at Medway Ambulance Station in Chatham say they are being asked to do “more and more”.
Jackie Jarvis, who has worked as a paramedic for 16 years and for South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) since 2016, said: “It’s very stressful trying to meet our targets to get to patients – I’ve never known such a mess.
“We always have winter pressures like the norovirus and winter bugs, and we can prepare – but we can’t prepare for other problems.
“There are issues with calls being incorrectly graded, we’ve arrived at a category 2 person in five minutes who’s had a headache for 10 minutes and hasn’t taken any painkillers, meanwhile an 84-year-old has been on the floor most of the night with a suspected broken hip and we can’t get to them because it’s been incorrectly graded as a category 4 call.
“It feels like we’re the backbone of the NHS but that’s not how it should be, we don’t want to feel like we are picking up the pieces.”
Ian Grimble, an assistant ambulance practitioner and student paramedic who has worked for SECAmb in Kent since 2008, said: “We’re asked to do more and more, and that impacts on the patient-facing side of care.
“People are waiting longer because we can’t get to them.
“It’s a lack of capacity in every department. We’re one of the first services who people contact but we’re getting held up because there’s no care provision for other patients to go to. This is the worst I’ve seen in 15 years, it’s totally changed.
“It’s the whole system – pay is part of that.”