Failure To Communicate

There is a bit of a kerfuffle in London at the moment about the failure of communication during the July 7th bombings.  In November one of our top management people told the review committee that our radios “worked well”.  This is being reported on as a misrepresentation.  While I don’t have any ‘inside information’ I can tell you that the communication gear supplied to us is inadequate.

And it’s the government’s fault.

Currently our communication equipment is –

a) A VHF radio installed in each ambulance/RRU

b) An ‘emergency’ mobile phone.

c) Managers and other important people have pagers.

The pagers are, as I understand it, in direct response to the July bombings – our managers became unreachable after the mobile phone networks were ‘switched off’.  We were quite lucky that a whole bunch of our managers were at a meeting in Milwall – and so large numbers of them could be contacted.

We used to have hand-held radios, but almost all of them have disappeared.  They were seldom in a good working order, the reception was awful, the battery life was crap and they weighed a ton.  They were so heavy that, should I be assaulted, I’d be better off using it as a weapon rather than trying to call for help.

Our mobile phones are also fairly useless – they are locked so you can only call certain numbers and because of the lack of staff up in Control you can be waiting a long time for the phone to be answered.  They are also pretty poor at getting a signal – they don’t like tunnels.  Or walls.

So – quite rightly – we will be getting a brand new system that will be integrated with other emergency services.  It is spanking new and apparently much better (although there have been some concerns about possible health risks, although others play such risks down.)

The problem (besides the chance of getting tumours) is that we will only be getting this system in 2008, this is of course, hoping that a government I.T. plan goes to plan – which, given recent schemes which have gone five times over budget, is highly unlikely.

I’m guessing that effective radios for ambulances is a pretty low priority given the financial state of a lot of NHS trusts.  Most of this problem is due to the unexpectedly high cost of Agenda for Change (40% of the extra money earmarked for the NHS) – it has gotten so bad that at least one hospital is making 1 in 7 staff redundant (because we obviously need less nurses, not more).  Although, at the risk of sounding like NHSblogdoc, the blessed Patricia Hewitt is blaming ‘bad management’.

We can only work with the money that the government gives us – there is no way we can ‘turn a profit’ on ambulance work – especially as we seem to be doing more and more community work for no additional funds.

So – communication failure has little to do with the LAS, and all to do with the money the government gives us.

(And this is after the government screwed EMTs over Agenda for Change bandings in order to give us as little money as possible)

20 thoughts on “Failure To Communicate”

  1. As a dispatcher for a large UK police force who has just recently switched to TETRA/Airwave I fail to see how it can take another two years+ for the ambulance service to switch over to it, the infrastructure is already in place all over the UK so no delays with that, I'd say all you need is to fit the radios in the vehicles (We use these, they have in-built GPS modules which report position back to mapping terminals in control rooms. It supports text messaging and they have serial outputs so i'd say it would hardly take alot to connect them to your existing MDT's for patients details, I have found the voice quality second to none. Emergency buttons which you press and you get 20 seconds of 'open mic' to shout whats the problem and the dispatchers terminal lights up like a christmas tree and reports GPS position to the map. You can also have private radio-radio calls to send sensitive info/sandwich order/bollockings.I've never had a problem with inter-force comms either, In training we spoke to a few officers in south wales which was'nt bad considering we were in the midlands.

    You could have your own police hailing talkgroup to summon immediate assistance when required, rather than ambulance tell ambulance control, ambulance control ring police, police then send job to divisional control room then send officers which could be wasted seconds.

    And when your in the system in the worst case scenario if ambulance control room became unavailable the fuzz could make do dispatching ambulances to jobs in the meantime whilst alternatives are sorted out and vice-versa for fire brigade.

    Personal radios might be where it gets a touch expensive if they have a habit of going walkies, 800 a go could add up fast, but with in built GPS as long as they are turned on once in a while it won't be long before they are tracked down! The personal radios also have an area under the battery for a SIM card which I would imagine turns them into a mobile phone but I don't know how this works

    A year tops and they could do it but they will spend it on everything else except for front line safety, A bit long winded but having swapped from a really bad (that is unless you wish to hear Russian Trawlers instead of officers) UHF radio system to one which has all the bells and whistles I think its fantastic.

  2. Words fail me … get a grip government, streamline all the emergency services communications networks, not only is it simpler for the people, but cheaper too. D'OH!Tom – the research you do is exemplary.


  3. clearly it can't be hewitts fault, that's why you have management, so that someone else can blame someone else, meanwhile while everybody is blaming each other, hewitt sits on her arse knowing her job is reasonably safedivided you fall, united you stand, as they say

  4. Have the NHS actually mentioned the staff the potential health risks of this new equipment, or even discussed it with you at all?Surely under health and safety at work you have the choice, and they have an obligation towards your health??

  5. From what I have heard, this system has been promised to us for the last few years. It is interesting to find out that the system will be rolled out from the middle of this year. I believe it is also known as the Tetra system.

  6. Whilst it's not entirely relevant to the subject matter, don't you also have mobile data terminals in ambulances/RRUs?

  7. Why does the government view anything as a business. Wasn't Labour originally intended to help the less well off – especially with health? Now they are more far right than the Ted Heath days.If the governmant wasn't so concerned with throwing money at the asylum seekers and the benefit (14 children by different women) scroungers we would have the cash we need.

  8. The idea of tetra is a grand one, I worry however that intergration will be a nightmare. The ambulance service needs far more communication than other essential services. Where I work we have a compleate mix-match of devices:. Faxing of ECG's to CCU's (over GSM mobile network)

    . Terrafix Status and text Communication

    . GPS Tracking and Navigation

    . Electronic patient report forms

    . Mobile Phones on each vehicle

    . Crews own phones (because vehicle phones are naff)

    . VHF radios on all vehicles in constant use (and poor reception)

    . UHF handsets for major incedents

    Combine all this? in one handheld? Nation wide? IN THE NHS?

    not likely…..

    Do you worry about health risks associated with Tetra as a potential carrier of electrical emiting device on your shoulder?

    Could a case come where Ambulance services were neglegent to possible side effects of Tetra where it could be blamed for illness?

    Were supposed to be one big intergrated NHS now, Online Booking of appointments, electronic nationwide records, etc.. etc..

    Will it happern? Nope!

  9. Lets face it. The government and the NHS are not good with technology. In my humble opinion every trust will be told to tender individually for equipment and none of it will be compatible. And yes EMT's did get screwed over agenda for change. My basic has actually gone down 2 grand

  10. your basic salary may technically be lower, but they can't actually pay you a basic salary less than what you were recieving prior to AfC. Under protect salary arrangements you will maintain your old salary until, AfC banding equals/overtakes it or the protected pay period ends – 2011you should speak to your salaries and wages dept if you are in reciept of less money than before.

  11. The government deliver an IT system on time and under budget? you jest. I'm on a limb here, I've done a few projects (IT related) for government and local government organisations, and I can tell you the chances of delivering these systems on time and on cost is unlikely. However, what it comes down to nine times out of ten is the supplier of the product. There is supposed to be a fair and unbiased tendering service that takes place. Thats all well and good but they always underbudget to win the contract and don't have the resources to deliver the project. What often lets it down is the relationship that exists between the government orgnisation and the supplier. When that happens things break down and things don't get delivered. The suppliers often see easy money and exploit under-experienced organisations, often at the public's expense.Today I learned that the DfES and the ODPM blocked a solution that went against several findings of some serious enquiries (think Soham and Victoria Climbe). Instead of developing an intelligent system that looked for patterns in abuse of children as submitted by different agencies, insisting on relying on human element. The same human elements that failed three little girls with their lives ahead of them. Why?

    IT is there to be exploited by the few and allowing a few to suffer because of it. It's wrong. When will people wake up and learn, done right, it shouldn't cost the earth. I mean how much is someone's life worth at the end of the day? What gives them the right to put a figure on it?

  12. Tetra is not going to cause health problems. It can't, unless you poke yourself in the eye with the aerial. If the frequencies used by Tetra caused health problems then TV transmitters, which use more-or-less the same frequencies but at tens of thousands of times higher power would have wiped us all out.

  13. Interesting, at Metro Amb Service we have a new system which combines Digital Mobile Data Terminals in the Trucks, a soon to arrive Digital Radio System (currently VHF) but importantly the jockey (person treating the patient) carries a pager which provides duplicate details of the dispatched job but also allows communication of hospital bypass warnings, confirmation of paramedic safety/welfare checks and any other messages Control need to deliver- this provides a great back it if the radio/MDT crashes

  14. I've noticed that there is a trend of criticism of the State involvement in things like supply, equipment, and general management. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it seems that there is some general skepticism about the idea of the State managing the health care. Coming from the U.S., with some debate about State involvement in health care, would you care to comment on the broader isssues involved?I realize you may not be as familiar with the private system, but I am nevertheless curious as to your opinions on this issue.

  15. the tetra system works on a pulse frequency of 17.6Hz, with our beta brain waves being around 13Hz to 20Hz. the tetra system is right in the middle, that is what worrying for the TV transmitters, the antenna is right up in the air not under a pen length from your brain as with the moblie tetra system. oh i almost forgot they down the power output of the TV tx before ANY work is done on the mast. even if it low down!!

    Now im not saying it is tetra is dangerous or not, but they need to say they dont fully know how the system could act on the human body.

  16. As far as I heard, there were problems with the original Tetra system with the police as far as health was concerned. However, they are using 2nd Generation equipment now, which has apparently dealt with the problems.

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