'Swine flu', which for those following me on Twitter, seems to be one of the things I'm encountering more and more often these days. Let me explain some of the ways in which it is impacting my working life of late.
- While the government leaflet says that masks offer no protection from the 'flu, our latest flowchart for dealing with it mentions not only masks, but also aprons and gloves. We have gone from having a pair of masks and a pair of aprons in our infection control kit to having as many masks as you want. To be fair we did have to
stealresource masks from the hospitals that we went to at the start of this outbreak, but supply problems seem to have been sorted out.
- Our call rate has gone from the normal 4,200-4,500 calls per day to around 5,200-5,700 in the last few days. This is an increase of around 26% Rather obviously this is having us run ragged. I have no idea if our sickness rate has increased (with staff being off with the Death Plague). What this has done is raise our DEFCOM level to 4. Which I don't think makes a huge difference to those of us on the road.
- Hospitals are refusing to see Swine 'flu patients unless they are incredibly unwell. I was nearly turned away from the hospital when taking in a woman with vaginal bleeding and dizziness because she had possible Swine 'flu. Do GPs do vaginal examinations and diagnosis? Or would this woman have been sent in by the GP anyway (given some of the… 'quality' GPs we have in my area it wouldn't surprise me if she were just sent up to the hospital without an examination). There is huge paranoia about letting anyone with a high temperature and the sniffles within hospital grounds. My question is, will hospitals be turning patients away in the Winter when the more dangerous 'flus are epidemic?
- We are seeing plenty of people who call us for Swine 'flu symptoms, as well as those who just mention 'chest pain' to our calltakers – thus guaranteeing an ambulance response. Quite a lot of people think that Swine 'flu is a death sentence even though this particular strain of 'flu seems to be a lot less dangerous than the normal seasonal 'flus.
- We have the normal increasing number of people collapsing from the heat – often their first thought is that they are dying of Swine 'flu.
- We are being told to leave people at home to look after themselves (heh, people actually looking after themselves, whatever fantasy scenario will our people think of next); this makes us ambulance staff somewhat nervous – after all there is the perception (if not the fact) that leaving people at home will only have us losing our jobs when someone dies.
- An example of one of our 'clients' – she called four ambulances over four days as her child has Swine 'flu, which isn't 'getting any better', despite being told that it can take over a week to feel better. Needless to say the child involved is fine if a bit generally unwell – certainly nothing that requires hospital treatment. Multiply this by the number of people across London and you can see one more reason why the number of calls is raised.
So, lots of panic, lots of fear, lots of misinformation along with the normal misuse of the ambulance service has resulted in many more calls for us, which then results in delays for people actually needing treatment. For example the police were with an assault patient for an hour waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
Unfortunately there isn't much that we can do, we can't suddenly make the public realise that they may be capable of looking after themselves without us holding their hands – and we can't magic up new ambulance staff from nowhere.
Except maybe get all the officers (that were road trained) up in Waterloo Control to
man resource up trucks and get out on the road – I'm sure that for a few weeks we can do without the assistant staff officer to the staff officer for the diversity department* (or similar) and that they might be more use on the road at the moment.
*I have no idea if this is a genuine position, although it sounds about right – I couldn't tell you how many levels of management there are between me and my boss, nor all the 'performance improvement' staff that float around up there in Waterloo.