“We ask anyone who is feeling unwell or is injured but is not facing a medical emergency to consider other options,” says a spokesperson. “When you think you need A&E for something that may not be urgent or an emergency, go to 111 online first - they help you right away and, if needed, a healthcare professional will call you.”
Good luck with that. My elderly technophobe parents and my mother-in-law, who doesn’t have the internet but does have poor mental health, wouldn’t have a clue where to start.
You could also try your local pharmacy, the hospital suggests, “for a whole host of common conditions like aches and pains, colds and tummy trouble”.
Not a great deal of help if you fall off a ladder or your child suddenly has a seizure. And what if there’s no pharmacy within walking distance? And you don’t drive and you’re stuck without a bus in a village without even a shop?
I’m sorry. I know – or at least I think – that we’re all still supposed to be pulling together and not being selfish, but you’re a lucky person if you can get through life without ever having to call an ambulance.
I don’t wish to single out Barnsley Hospital for individual criticism. It is a heart-breaking fact that ambulance services and A&E departments couldn’t cope even before the pandemic struck and how added pressures – including the shortage of GPs - are now making everything so much worse.
Inexcusable waits for calls to be answered. Ambulances and paramedic assistance taking hours to arrive. Queues of vehicles outside emergency departments, their passengers ill or injured, sitting in desperation pain and confusion. And now we’re approaching winter facing the “worst performance since records began for ambulance calls, A&Es and waits for planned hospital care”, says Deborah Ward, senior analyst at the King’s Fund think-tank. The average ambulance response time for heart attack and stroke patients is now nearly an hour – three times the health service’s 18-minute safety target for such Category Two calls. These are requests classed as an emergency or a potentially serious condition that may require rapid assessment, urgent on-scene intervention and/or urgent transport.
When my dad collapsed four years ago and ended up in hospital with a suspected heart attack, the minutes we sat watching him writhe in agony as we waited for the ambulance to arrive were some of the most agonising of my own life.
That feeling that we were completely helpless and couldn’t do anything at all until the two young paramedics arrived and stabilised him before the ambulance took him off, blue lights flashing, will never leave me.
I cannot imagine how it must feel to be in that situation and wait for a full hour or more, but that could be happening to somebody right now.
I would never, ever criticise any medical professional working at the sharp end of providing emergency care. Unless you do this job, day and night, you are in no position whatsoever to judge.
However, as a tax-paying member of the public, I am in a position to judge the performance of the Government. And whilst we all accept that the Covid pandemic put pressure on all resources as never before, the crisis in A&E is surely not being fully acknowledged by the Prime Minister or Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary.
Union leaders also say that the Government is – yet again – refusing to listen to those on the frontline. This reinforces my cynical belief that the Prime Minster never really cared about the NHS, even at the height of the pandemic, and all his emotive pleas to ‘clap for carers’ were nothing more than guilt-induced hype.
I’ve heard, and I hope that this story is apocryphal, that in September during the petrol supply crisis, the Government wrote to paramedics asking them to consider leaving the health service to retrain as HGV drivers. If this really was the case, then it absolutely proves that there is not an ounce of compassion in Downing Street.
We are not talking about abstracts here, but men, women and children who need urgent help in a medical emergency. The Government must make good its promise to protect the NHS come what may. It is after all, for life, not just a pandemic.
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