For those in the UK Panorama tonight has a programme on violent patients in the NHS (BBC One 20:30).
Us ambulance crews are verbally and physically abused on an almost daily basis – it has gotten that we tend to ignore the verbal abuse that we get. It’s only with the increasingly common physical assaults that we fill in the required forms.
Let me give you an example from my last night shift, a not unusual job.
We were called to ‘woman collapsed in the street’ at gone midnight. We arrived to discover our ‘patient’ lying under a bus stop with what appeared to be her worldly possessions in a plastic bag. There was no-one else around except for the minicab driver who had called us from hi office that she had ‘collapsed’ in front of. While my nose can no longer detect alcohol my crewmate for the shift was able to tell me that the patient smelt as if she had been dunked in a brewery sewer.
A quick check in her bag revealed nothing obviously medically wrong with her (medicalert bracelets or ‘I am an epileptic’ cards). It did however reveal that the woman had been released from custody earlier in the day.
I tried to wake her, but she screwed her eyes tight and refused to talk to us. The problem is that we can’t leave her on the street; someone else would call us and we would be back and forth all night. Likewise if she froze to death we would be to blame and, if she were stabbed later in the night we’d also probably be to blame. The police also wouldn’t be interested, they have stopped taking people who are drunk, one too many deaths in custody is to blame for this. So, as she refused to go home or to her hostel, the only place that we could take her was to hospital.
I was in a good mood, so I explained all this to her, that we couldn’t leave her here, and that if she didn’t come with us the police would probably be called and that they might take a dim view of her drunkenness (a bit of a bluff, but it sometimes works).
So she started to swear at us, she threatened to hit me and she was generally rather rude…
Again, this is all water off a ducks back to me. At one point she tried to kick me, but I’m an old hand at drunks in the street and by the cunning tactic of stepping out the way managed to avoid a scuffed shin.
Eventually we managed to hoik her up and into the back of the ambulance where, after a bit more swearing, she settled down.
She did give me a dirty look at the end of the journey though.
I would say that I get a patient who is verbally abusive at least once or twice in a shift. I don’t mind violence from people who are medically unwell (e.g. diabetics with low blood sugars, post seizure epileptics). But can I really count ‘drunk’ as a medical problem?
I also count myself lucky that I work where I do – unlike the hospitals where people become frustrated by long waiting times and percieved injustice I’m often seen as a friendly stranger who makes everything better.