A couple of people asked me in the comments about having only one cup of tea during the shift. This desire for tea is not limited to the ambulance service (See the recent post from the excellent Inspector Gadget).
Here is how it works…
Due to the European Working Time Directive us ambulance people have, under law, the entitlement for a marked out 'rest break'.
Except that sometimes we don't.
Sticking to twelve hour shifts, because otherwise it gets complicated, we should have one forty-five minute rest break. Thirty minutes of this break is unpaid and is uninterruptible. The final fifteen minutes can be interrupted, and if it is interrupted then we get £10 compensation.
We should only get interrupted for 'life-threatening' calls.
We must be given our rest break in a 'window' stretching from four hours into our shift and the break must be completed two hours before the end of the shift.
Now the interesting thing about all this, and the bit that I don't understand, is that all this is kind of optional.
On many shifts we don't get a break, and so are allowed to go home half an hour early (and claim £10). This means that we are working for eleven and a half hours without a break. On a busy day this means that the opportunities for a cup of tea are limited. It might also mean that the LAS is breaking the law – but this is just my layman view.
Why don't we get a break? Because it's too busy, because people want ambulances for the tiniest little thing and because there just aren't enough ambulances on the road to cope.
This is further complicated in that many ambulance people don't want to have a break – an extra £10 a shift makes a fair bit of difference to our pay packet and you can come out an extra £150-200 better off at the end of a month because of it. So you will find some crews trying to avoid being put on a break.
Things are made even more complicated when the Press suddenly realised that us ambulance people require the odd cup of tea and so the newspapers were rife with 'My Mum Died While Paramedics Drank Tea' type stories. One is even mentioned in the recent Trust Report where the reporter seemed to think that a broken down ambulance is 'on a break'. I went into this aspect of having a rest break in more detail previously.
But all this wouldn't matter except that technology has stuffed up your ambulance crew on the street.
It used to be said that if you couldn't find a cup of tea or a bite to eat then you weren't much of an ambulance crew. Hospitals have kettles, there are lots of chips shops in London and if you are desperate then you could even risk the hospital canteen.
However, with satellite tracking and an increasing number of calls (without an increasing number of ambulances), there is more pressure to make ready at hospital after dropping off a patient. Where we may have had time for a quick brew from the nurse's staffroom we are now receiving terse messages from Control asking what the delay is.
Not that I think these messages come from our Dispatchers – I always imagine some officer with epaulettes wide enough to hold all that 'scrambled egg' wandering around with a cup of tea, looking over the Dispatcher's shoulders pointedly asking why a crew is spending longer than half an hour at hospital…
Likewise, the location tracking on our vehicles means that we can no longer sneak down to 'George's chip shop' for saveloy and chips without being asked to 'update your status and location'.
(And people wonder why ambulance staff are often fat and die young…)
So we end up without breaks, or risk being disciplined for sneaking off for a drink and a bite to eat. This is why we like the dirty or bleeding patient, it means we have to return to station to clean out the ambulance and this gives us a chance for a cup of tea. It's why an incompetent assault that requires paperwork to be filled in is almost something to look forward to.
It's also why, when someone misses the vomit bowl and pukes all over the floor of the ambulance, I can honestly tell them not to worry about it with a big smile on my face.