I have previously had a series on the blog called ‘Over to You’. This was an open invitation to my readers who may have stories to tell but no blog or means to share them, to write it down and email it to me so that I can share your stories with some of your fellow readers. It went well for a few weeks but gradually fizzled out as other things took over (Chronicles of EMS, etc).
However, one of my readers, Nick, who has contributed to this blog in the past has just send in another guest post. One which I would like to share with you all.
I have mentioned in the past about the voluntary agencies that help us out from time to time and the rough deal that they can sometimes get from some of the paramedics out there who don’t truly appreciate what they do. Well, this following post explains the role of the St John Ambulance service and how it fits into the NHS Ambulance service at times of need.
Thanks for sending it in, and if any of the rest of you have anything you would like to share, then email it to me at the usual address : firstname.lastname@example.org
Life as a Johnnie.
This is my second guest post on Medic999’s blog.
In my first post, called “When My Two Worlds Collided”, I discussed a situation where I suddenly and dramatically became involved in a roadside resuscitation, these things are a fairly rare event though and so I thought I would write this time about what it is normally like to be a part time First Aider and ambulance crew member.
I hope this will help to explain a little bit about what motivates St John Ambulance members and dispel some of the myths that we are First Aiders in vans or some kind of strange geeks who are all “wannabe” Paramedics.
I guess I should explain a little bit about what St John Ambulance is for any readers who are not from the UK and don’t know anything about us.
We are a volunteer service of around 40,000 members; we also have the largest fleet of ambulances in the UK.
St John Ambulance is present at very many large events such as the London Marathon and also hundreds, if not thousands, of small local events such as church fairs and village shows.
St John used to have a slogan “helping Britain to enjoy its self” and I think this sums up a lot of what we do as a first aid organisation.
We also have a less well known role as the National Ambulance Reserve; this tasks us with providing a reserve of ambulances and crews to support the NHS ambulance services in times of need. This is a very serious and important role in a post 9/11 and 7/7 world.
An example of how this works in practice was during the London Bombings on 7/7/2005 St John supplied 37 ambulances and 20 support vehicles and supplied first aid cover at locations such as the temporary morgue. At the same time 18 other counties of St John Volunteers had units available to be deployed immediately had they been required.
We have also recently supported the NHS during flooding that occurred in northern England and as I write in early January the memory of doing NHS cover shifts over the Christmas and New Year period are still clear in my mind.
During the time of me starting to write this piece our major incident response was tested to the full in my locality when a massive gas explosion occurred in my town – miraculously and thankfully nobody was killed although a number of people were seriously injured. St John Ambulance quickly had 7 vehicles including ambulances, support vehicles and a mobile treatment centre on scene – on this occasion I was not deployed but I was at home ready to go and I was very proud to see my friends and colleagues on the news pictures doing their work.
Away from the ambulance and major incident role the British public are very used to seeing us at events in our distinctive black and white uniform but I think they often under estimate our abilities and to be honest sometimes are so used to seeing us they take us for granted – I have found this rapidly changes if an incident occurs and our help is required!
A question I am often asked is “why do you do it?” and I find this very difficult to answer. I started doing it because I was simply spending too many evenings sat in front of the TV and really doing nothing of any use. I thought it would be good to do something that would fill a few evenings a week; little did I know how it would take over my life, last year I did some 650 hours on duty (this works out to around 16 full time weeks at work) whilst holding down a full time job as a manager in an engineering company. Frankly I do it because I enjoy it, for me it is not that I have a burning desire to do good and charitable works but it is nice that this is the outcome.
I enjoy the challenge of doing a technical and complex job that is so completely different to what I do 9-5 each day which answers another question I am sometimes asked, namely would I want to do it full time? – the answer to that is no, I don’t think I would. I love what I do but I am not sure I would love it if I did it every day.
I am trained by St John to the level of an Emergency Transport Attendant which is the highest level of medical training available to a lay member; this took several years of doing first aid duties and gaining a high level of experience at that level. The actual ETA course was 10 days long and was taught by an experienced Paramedic trainer from the local NHS ambulance service trust. This was followed by practical and written assessments and a period of 3rd manning with more experienced members. The formal training process took some 6 months to complete.
It is hard to explain where our level of training sits, some people say we are trained to Ambulance Technician level but this is not strictly true, what we learn, we learn to Tech level but we do not cover the full syllabus – most notably we cannot carry out any invasive procedure including taking a BM (a real bone of contention with SJA crews) and we have no training on ECGs.
I can now (and regularly do) crew a frontline ambulance at events and in support of the NHS. In my area we currently provide regular cover to the local ambulance service as they have severe staffing issues which are currently being rectified, once this happens I guess the amount of “999” work we do will reduce dramatically which I think will be a real shame, the experience we gain and the relationships we build with our NHS colleagues cannot come from any number of courses and training sessions – we will see how that develops.
The type of work we do on NHS cover varies widely from one shift to the next but we are able to attend any level of call although all chest pain type calls must be Paramedic supported because as stated above we cannot do ECGs and we cannot give more than O2 and Aspirin. This works well as we are seen as a BLS first response and then once the Paramedic is on scene they can opt to travel in the ambulance while the SJA crew member drives the RRV to the hospital.
We also do a good number of “Doctor urgent” calls where we transport, often chronically, ill patients at the request of their GP. I am always happy to do this sort of work as it frees up our NHS colleagues to cover the emergency work.
In truth most shifts are a mix of both types of call and the work is enjoyable and varied.
Incidentally in my area we are paid when we do NHS cover shifts, this is not always the case across the country as different counties can set their own policy.
The other type of work we do is event cover, either as a first aider or as an ambulance crew. This can be huge events such as major sporting events like the London Marathon or Rugby internationals at Twickenham Stadium and some large concerts like the V Festivals. These are highly organised events with Gold, Silver and Bronze command structures.
At the other end of the scale are small, local events where there may be just 2 First Aiders on duty, in some ways these are the more difficult to do as you are very much on your own – at the larger events you may well have Paramedics, Nurses and Doctors immediately available if something goes pear shaped, at the smaller event you may have to wait for an ambulance to arrive for professional assistance.
I will never regret joining St John, I have met people who I respect greatly and I have met and treated some fantastic members of the public (as well as quite a few who were not so fantastic).
I think the organisation is a much loved but much misunderstood part of British life – and I hope my notes here help to correct and inform a few opinions.
Just think next time you see a Johnnie at the football, marathon or your village fete it might be me, feel free to say hello (but please don’t ask me where the toilets are – a Johnnie in joke there).