I've mentioned before in passing my call where I was told that 'Patient wants a cup of tea'.
An 'amber' call – lights and sirens if you please. Drive down the wrong side of the road as well.
Our 'patient' was an eighty year old woman who got up and opened the front door when we arrived. Trying to be as polite as possible I asked her what the problem was.
'My carer hasn't arrived, I need a cup of tea'.
My immediate thought was that this patient wouldn't have much problem making her own cup of tea, but I'm not paid to be an occupational therapist, so I kept my opinion to myself. I tried to feel as much sympathy towards this patient as possible.
I enquired as to how many times a day she would have a carer, what they did for her, and when the carer was expected.
All in all it seemed like a pretty light care package – someone to make sure that she was awake in the morning and someone to put her to bed in the night, meals on wheels and help taking her medicines. Nothing too serious.
But… I know full well what some of the 'carers' on my patch are like, so I looked around for the care notes and rang their office.
'Hello there – London Ambulance Service, I'm with a Mr's Smith and I'm ringing to find out about her carers'.
There was an apologetic cough down the phone, 'Hello ambulance. She's wondering where her carer is isn't she? Sorry about this but she does this all the time – we are a bit short handed at the moment because I've lots of people off with the 'flu – I called her this morning to say that the carer would be half an hour late, but she calls you, the police or the fire service if the carer is more than five minutes late. I'm terribly sorry she's wasted your time.'
The nice lady on the other end of the phone let me know that the carer was on her way there now.
So we watched our 'patient' get up and make herself a cup of tea, and just as she finished the carer arrived, looking somewhat overworked.
I don't know if she was 'mad' or 'bad', but she had caused an A&E emergency ambulance to rush to her aid – for nothing more than a cup of tea.
What annoys me is that the people up in our Control aren't allowed to use any sort of common sense in triaging calls – for example if someone rings up and says they are the patient then say they have 'difficulty in breathing' despite talking constantly and without apparent difficulty to the calltaker, we are still sent on blue lights and sirens to this 'high priority' call.
Meanwhile the granny who has been laying on the floor in her own urine for eight hours is still a 'low priority' call.
I don't blame the calltakers, they are forced to work to a system that simply does not work – if it worked then I wouldn't find myself rushing to twenty year olds with runny noses on sirens while being cancelled from people who have had strokes.
The solution, while simple, would cost money – as you'd have to train and pay people to have some clinical skills rather than the poor unfortunates who have to robotically read questions and answers from a computer screen while being watched over by officers who have never worked on the road or as calltakers themselves.
But then, little Doris with her broken hip isn't as important as saving money, is she?