Tuesday, October 04, 2005


There are really two main types of call we go to as part of the A&E section of the ambulance service.

The first is the Emergency call - the 999 calls, and can range from cardiac arrest to a ring stuck on a finger (yes, I've actually sat in control and listened to that call come in!)

The second is an Urgent call - called in by a doctor, nurse etc for a patient that requires transporting to hospital, but isn't in a life-threatening condition. Usually they give a time for the patient to be in by (known as a Scheduled Time of Arrival - or STA). We don't use blue lights to go to this type of call.

We were on our way back to the ambulance station after having the computer on our ambulance repaired when we were given an urgent call to an elderly lady. The doctor said she was suffering from Acute Shortness of Breath. The call taker had obviously asked the doctor if he wanted an ambulance to attend as an emergency, because the screen also told us the doctor had said an emergency response was not required.

The call was nearly out of time, and we had quite a way to go to get to the call, so we asked control if they'd like us to respond using blue lights due to the diagnosis and the fact that the call was nearly out of time. They agreed, so I switched on the blue lights and off we went.

We arrived about 9 minutes later (the journey without blue lights would have easily taken another half an hour) and walked through the door to the block of flats to find the doctor sitting on the stairs, which we thought was a bit odd. "The patient's upstairs on the landing," he told us.

A bit confused, we walked up the stairs, and there at the top, on the landing by the communal door, curled up in a ball on her knees was the patient. And she wasn't breathing. And she clearly hadn't been breathing for quite some time, as we could see evidence of hypostasis (when the blood pools at the lower part of the body after death has occured). For some reason, this poor woman had passed away on the landing of the block of flats, kneeling on the floor.

The doctor had followed us up the stairs. We asked him what he knew about her. He said he'd only spoken to her on the telephone about an hour before (rubbish!) and had told her he was sending an ambulance for her. He hadn't actually visited her, so hadn't realised how poorly she was. He'd found her in her current state when he'd arrived to deliver the letter for the hospital.

He'd already sent for the police. There was clearly nothing we could do, so we left the doctor waiting for the police to arrive.

This is the first time this has actually happened to me on an urgent call - although I've come bloody close in the past, having to blue light some critically ill people into hospital when the GP had said an emergency response wasn't required.

It really is quite rare for it to happen, but it is so frustrating when it does. The most annoying part about the above example, is that the doctor didn't consider calling us back to update us that the patient had died.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh no! Another good blog to read!
I may never be able to leave my desk again....

Very sad story though. More resources needed all round by the sound of it.

12:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Im a student looking to join the ambulance service in the near future.

Its great to see the diversity of calls you guys actually go to, thanks for sharing.

8:57 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to deal with a doctor like the one you just mentioned, except he works near San Francisco. The doctor would call us up for an ambulance and say it was not an emergency - no lights, no sirens. Unfortunately by the time the crews got there, the patient was usually dead or almost dead. My crews hated this doctor, so did we. But the laws were written a certain way. If the doctor said he was there with the patient (although he never was there when the crews arrived) we had to do what he asked.

5:27 pm  

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