Ambulance service contributed to loss of lives at Hillsborough disaster

Project M (5)Following the longest inquest in British legal history, the jury of the Hillsborough disaster that occurred at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, ruled that lives were lost as a result of mistakes made by the ambulance service.

The disaster, which saw 96 Liverpool fans die and 766 injured, occurred after police opened an exit gate to alleviate the throng of people outside. This lead to a huge influx of supporters into two of the pens, causing severe crushing to those fans already in the terrace.

After hearing evidence for over 2 years, the jury of six women and three men reached a verdict of unlawful killing by a 7-2 majority.

They were asked 14 questions related to areas such as basic facts of the disaster, policing, behaviour of the supporters and defects in the Hillsborough stadium.

When questioned on the emergency response and the role of the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (SYMAS) after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, it was agreed that error or omission on behalf of SYMAS contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster.

In particular, it was felt that SYMAS officers at the scene failed to ascertain the nature of the problem at Leppings Lane, and the failure to recognise and call a Major Incident led to delays in responses to the emergency.

Speaking after the ruling, Rod Barnes, Chief Executive of Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, extended his sympathies to the bereaved families of those who lost their lives as a result of the tragedy.

‘We fully accept the jury’s conclusions that after the crush began to develop there were mistakes made by the ambulance service,’ said Barnes. ‘Lives could have been saved on the 15th April 1989 had the emergency response been different.’

He went on to apologise on behalf of Yorkshire Ambulance Service: ‘I am truly sorry. Our thoughts remain with the families as they continue to grieve and come to terms with the evidence they have heard over the last 2 years.’

‘As one of the successor organisations of South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, we have had a responsibility to ensure a full and fair examination of their response. We have done our best to make sure all relevant evidence about the ambulance service response has been put before the Court, placed in context and properly explored in an open way,’ he added.

He highlighted how the ambulance service has changed in the last 27 years and stressed how a lot has been learned from Hillsborough and other incidents.

‘We, as an organisation, are not complacent. I would like to reassure the public that the ambulance service’s ability to respond to a major disaster such as this has changed beyond all recognition.

‘We understand the importance of today for the families and friends of those who died. Our thoughts remain with them.’

In addition to the ambulance service, it was concluded that the South Yorkshire police were responsible for the development of the dangerous situation and subsequently contributed to the loss of lives due to a lack of coordination, communication, command and control, which in turn delayed or prevented appropriate responses.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that the jury’s ruling of the Hillsborough inquests has provided ‘official confirmation’ that Liverpool fans were ‘utterly blameless in the disaster’.

Ambulance staff contemplate suicide due to poor mental health

Project M (1)‘It started to manifest itself after a failed resuscitation attempt on a child several years ago. While there were low-level symptoms over the years, and there were certain calls that would affect me more than others, there was much more severe recurrence after witnessing the aftermath of a plane crash over a year ago.’

Aryeh Myers, 39, is a paramedic for Magen David Adom, Israel’s national ambulance service. Before that he worked for London Ambulance Service NHS Trust for almost 10 years, as both an emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) just over a year ago.

Myers is one of an alarming number of paramedics whose mental health has suffered directly as a result of working for the ambulance service.

Recent figures published by mental health charity Mind revealed a third of ambulance staff surveyed contemplated taking their own lives due to stress and poor mental health. The results, taken from the responses of 1 600 emergency services staff and volunteers, including 308 in the ambulance service, also showed that 67% of ambulance staff contemplated leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health. A huge 93% reported experiencing stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services.

The figures also highlighted how 57% of ambulance staff took time off due to stress, low mood or poor mental health. These results reaffirm those published by The Observer that revealed over 40 000 days were lost by ambulance staff in 2014 due to mental health problems.

For Myers, he recalls how he took a month off work to begin treatment, including several sessions with a counsellor who taught him how to recognise triggers, how to partially ward them off, and particularly how to deal with the thoughts and reactions that those triggers bring.

‘It helped to a certain degree,’ he says. ‘At least I was able to go back to work. But there is, from what I’ve experienced, no way to completely get rid of PTSD, and certainly not if you continue working in the field where it was caused in the first place.’

Blue Light Programme

In October 2014, Mind was awarded LIBOR funding to deliver a programme to provide mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England up until 31 March 2016.

The Blue Light Programme focused on five main areas: tackling stigma and discrimination, embedding workplace wellbeing, building resilience of staff, providing information and support, and improving support pathways.

So far the programme has seen 250 000 information resources disseminated, 5 000 managers participate in line manager training, over 400 emergency services staff register to be ‘Blue Light Champions’, and 54 blue light employers and 9 national associations sign the Blue Light Time to Change pledge—a commitment to raising awareness of mental health, tackling stigma and helping enable staff and volunteers to talk more openly about their mental health at work. Currently, all ambulance services in England except East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust have signed the pledge.

Funds have been allocated for Mind to continue to deliver the programme on a smaller scale throughout 2016/17.

Esmail Rifai, 50, is a clinical safety officer for North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, who recently returned to work following a long period of work-related anxiety and depression. He lost a work colleague and friend to suicide.

‘My colleague taking his own life had a devastating effect on me at a time when I was coming to terms with my own mental health,’ he says.

‘At work I often take on more than time permits, which inevitably takes its toll and ultimately ends up with my own mental health deteriorating.’

Rifai is a ‘Blue Light Champion’ and has found the experience helpful in coming to terms with his own mental health issues. ‘Being involved with the Blue Light Programme has also given me some solace,’ he says. ‘Knowing that I’m helping others in itself makes me feel good—a sense of achievement.’

Exposure to shocking events

Project M (3)Dan Farnworth is an EMT for North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust who has also suffered from PTSD.

‘My mental health issues started about a year and a half ago,’ he says. ‘We went to a job that involved child abuse. It was awful. We did everything that we could, but unfortunately we weren’t able to save the child.’

While Farnworth understandably felt low after the job, it wasn’t until 24 hours later that he found himself unable to shake the image of the child from his head.

‘At work I wasn’t acting like myself anymore; I wasn’t socialising as much with colleagues, and generally not interacting with people.’

In addition to his work, he found the event had begun to affect his life at home as well.

‘It made me a grumpier person, and my patience was a lot shorter. It even started to affect my sleep, and I found myself having nightmares about it.

‘I’d often find myself just sat there, not really doing anything but thinking about the job, and thinking about whether there was anything else I could have done.’

The nature of work undertaken by ambulance services means there are times when paramedics find themselves turning up at the scene of a shocking or upsetting event.

‘As a paramedic there is no way to avoid seeing sights that are difficult,’ says Myers. ‘It may be one shocking call, or it may be a build up over time, but I believe we are all affected in some way by the things we see, by the emotion we experience but are forced to contain while dealing with our job. Showing any sign of emotion is still perceived as a weakness rather than an outlet, and this is one of the things that needs to change.’

Kevin Sibley is an EMT for East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust who served 8 years within the army. A year of that time was spent in Northern Ireland where he witnessed a number of harrowing events. He remains unconvinced at the prevalence of mental health problems suffered by ambulance staff.

‘I have known people who have left the ambo service and have come back 6 months later after querying suffering mental problems,’ he says.

‘Unfortunately I think lots of people use the mental health card in the ambo. PTSD in the military is not an excuse, it’s because your mates who will die for you are killed in a horrible situation. Unfortunately I can’t compare this to the ambo service as we join to help people in road traffic collisions (RTC) etc. You [can] walk in to a hanging, RTC or decapitation.’

Sibley is of the opinion that some paramedics are quick to associate distressing events with potential mental health issues, with some reaching for the latest buzz word to explain how they are feeling.

‘I don’t mean to belittle people with issues but we were unwell,’ he says. ‘Not dealing with it, then stress, then depression. People looked for a new thing, a new name, and grabbed PTSD.’

Support for ambulance staff

Currently, ambulance services have internal debriefing support services, and through occupational health staff have access to professional counselling services. Additionally, support is provided to ambulance service staff and their families by The Ambulance Services Charity (TASC).

‘Most people will normally feel some levels of stress throughout their day—the fight or flight model enables us to cope with difficult situations,’ says Jean Hayes, director of support services for TASC. ‘However, prolonged levels of stress can sometimes have a negative impact on health and wellbeing. For some ambulance personnel, constant and increasing exposure to difficult situations may result in poor health.’

Hayes explains how since its launch in March 2015, TASC have been approached by a number of ambulance personnel suffering from low mood, stress-related illness and undiagnosed PTSD, many of whom remain in work providing a dedicated service to the general public.

As a result, the charity is currently developing a programme of support for individuals, working with a leading psychologist, which will enable ambulance personnel to recognise their own symptoms and develop strategies to help manage poor mental health.

‘Subject to funding, TASC aim to roll out this programme of work nationwide,’ says Hayes. ‘Along with other support services, TASC are here to support those working in the UK ambulance services, whenever they are facing unexpected difficulties, crisis or are in need.’

The College of Paramedics has been working closely with Mind over recent months, and is an active participant in the blue light mental health agenda nationally, along with the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE).

According to David Davis, paramedic and fellow of the College of Paramedics, the College has recognised the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of paramedics and other ambulance and pre-hospital professionals for a number of years. These include significant concerns around what many feel is an unachievable retirement age of 68, significant changes in working practices and increased workloads resulting in increased isolation of practitioners, as well as concerns over violence and aggression towards emergency services workers.

‘The research undertaken by Mind, as part of the Blue Light Programme, has reinforced anecdote with real meaningful data about the level of problems, and importantly revealed that many frontline staff were not keen on being open about mental ill health and stress for fear of either embarrassment or adverse consequences from employers or otherwise,’ says Davis.

‘The most recent data was very worrying indeed,’ he adds. ‘Particularly that 35% of those ambulance staff completing the online survey had contemplated taking their own lives.

‘There is increasing awareness of the risk of suicide among paramedics and other emergency ambulance service personnel that simply cannot be ignored, and the recent data from the Mind survey tells us that actions must be taken now to support and protect this important group of public servants.’

Davis, who is spokesperson on mental health for the College of Paramedics, goes on to highlight that the recent College of Paramedics conference revealed a clearly expressed mandate to make mental health of the membership a priority and to support the Mind programme.

‘A single suicide of one of the brave men or women who I am proud to call my colleagues is a tragedy too many,’ says Davis. ‘We must work together to tackle the issues of mental ill health, whether they be stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.’

The AACE is one of the national associations signed up to the Mind Blue Light Time to Change pledge and were fully engaged in the Blue Light Programme throughout its initial duration. According to Anna Parry, national programme manager for the AACE, the association is continuing to benefit from the work undertaken by Mind, with the Time to Change Programme Manager contributing to ongoing work the AACE is overseeing to promote and enhance the mental health and wellbeing of staff. At the national level, the AACE is collating information and data in this area to better understand what more can be done to support ambulance service staff.

‘The sector feels that there is more that could and should be done to fight mental health stigma and discrimination and to enhance the supports that are available to staff in this area,’ says Parry.

‘The mental health and wellbeing of staff subsequently features in the AACEs 2016–17 strategic priorities; these are identified and progressed by ambulance services nationally,’ she adds.

Removing the stigma

Project M (4)Farnworth believes that with ever increasing demand on the ambulance service, there is not as much opportunity for discussion and reflection between jobs anymore.

‘When staff attend a particularly traumatic job, they are offered some “time out” but many staff don’t take this up when they know there are patients out there waiting for our help,’ he says.

‘As much as we look out for each other, there is still a bravado or “stigma” attached with this job; we all like to think we are infallible. We are there to support the public in [their] time of need, but we tend to not ask for help ourselves.’

‘Talking to my peers has also been a massive help,’ says Farnworth. ‘It helps me realise that what I’m going through is normal, and that many people experience things like this from time to time.’

This sentiment is something that Myers finds he can also relate to:

‘The first piece of advice I would give would be “do not be ashamed”. It took me a long time to admit both to myself and to those around me that there was something wrong. There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, particularly PTSD, in a field where it is expected that you just get on with the job, that prevents people from seeking help. A first-line defence must be to talk, be it to a colleague, a friend or a relative, or, if the need arises, to a medical professional who will be able to give guidance with reference to the right course of treatment if required.

‘Don’t be afraid to seek help. Because the subject up until very recently was taboo, it was not well known how and where to seek help, but I believe that it’s slowly improving.’

Rifai also believes that stigma surrounding mental health should be removed: ‘There is no shame or stigma attached to experiencing mental health problems, it’s just the same as breaking a bone, except no one can see that you are suffering. We are not super humans and we are just as prone to illness as anyone else, if not more.’

Blue Light Walk

To help raise awareness of mental health problems within the blue light community and get emergency service personnel talking, Farnworth has teamed up with Richard Morton, paramedic; Philip Baggaley, senior paramedic; and Gill Despard, paramedic lecturer practitioner, to walk from Scarborough RNLI to Blackpool RNLI stopping at fire, police and ambulance stations along the way. They will be raising money for the Blue Light Programme.

The walk will take place from 26–30 September and they are inviting all emergency services, as well as the general public, to join them on the ‘last leg’ from Broughton ambulance station to Blackpool RNLI. Additionally, they are putting on a Blue Light Walk Charity Ball to celebrate the success of the walk on 1 October. If you would like to support their cause or join them then visit

Has your mental health been affected as a result of working for the ambulance service? If so, Journal of Paramedic Practice would like to hear from you. Email

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 6 May 2016.

Delivering a promise over pay

Project M (2)

The junior doctor dispute over pay has taken up a lot of space in the news in recent months, yet they are not the only health professionals who are displeased with Government plans.

In 2014, paramedics were among the thousands of health professionals who took to the picket line in the first NHS strike over pay in 32 years. In a desperate effort to resolve the pay dispute of 2014/15, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, agreed to a number of commitments to ambulance staff, including a review of the banding system to recognise the skill set of paramedics (Hunt, 2015). Roll on 2016 and there is still no suggestion that Mr Hunt will deliver on his promise. Understandably this has angered many ambulance staff.

As a result, the unions UNISON, Unite and GMB have announced they will be balloting their ambulance service members to see if they are willing to take industrial action over the Government’s failure to keep its promise.

The numbers of paramedics leaving the profession has been increasing year-on-year (UNISON et al, 2015). This has resulted in the addition of paramedics to the shortage occupation list (SOL), with vacancy rates running at approximately 10% of the total 12 500 paramedic workforce in England (Migration Advisory Committee, 2015). One of the key reasons people cited leaving, or considering leaving, the ambulance service was pay (UNISON et al, 2015).

The proposal set out in the Urgent and Emergency Care Review (NHS England, 2013) to extend paramedic training and skills, and develop 999 ambulances into mobile treatment centres, emphasises how the current scope of practice of paramedics is changing. As paramedics take on increasing responsibilities, it is only fair their pay is amended to reflect this shift. The short supply and high demand of paramedics means that ambulance services are facing a conceivable recruitment and retention crisis. However, while the National Ambulance Strategic Partnership Forum have made a formal request to the National Job Evaluation Group to look at the National Job Evaluation paramedic profile, only a handful of ambulance services have agreed to pay paramedics Agenda for Change band 6 in the hope of recruiting and retaining paramedics.

The Journal of Paramedic Practice would like to find out how its readers feel about their current pay and conditions. I therefore urge you to take 3 minutes to complete our online survey.


Hunt J (2015) Letter from the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, to Christina McAnea on Agenda for Change Proposal, 27 January 2015. (accessed 29 April 2016)

Migration Advisory Committee (2015) Partial review of the Shortage Occupation Lists for the UK and for Scotland. MAC, London. (accessed 29 April 2016)

NHS England (2013) High quality care for all, now and for future generations: Transforming urgent and emergency care services in England—Urgent and Emergency Care Review End of Phase 1 Report. NHS England, Leeds

UNISON, Unite, GMB (2015) NHS Pay Review Body Evidence: Recruitment and retention of ambulance staff. (accessed 29 April 2016)

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 6 May 2016.

Chief executive of The Ambulance Services Charity leaves to pursue other interests

Lorna Birse-Stewart, chief executive of The Ambulance Services Charity (TASC), has left the organisation to pursue other interests, it has been revealed.

According to a statement issued by TASC, Birse-Stewart was instrumental in launching the charity in March 2015, which aims to support current and former members of the ambulance services community, as well as their families and dependents. She also played a key role in setting up the charity’s new UK head office in Westwood Way, Coventry.

While at the organisation she led in its regional engagement programme, touring the UK and visiting ambulance services both within the NHS and the independent sector, as well as engaging with leading figures from the ambulance industry.

A replacement chief executive for TASC has not yet been announced.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 22 April 2016.

Anthony Marsh to become improvement advisor at struggling East Midlands Ambulance Service

Anthony Marsh, CEO of West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (WMAS), is to become improvement advisor at East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EMAS) as part of plans to help turn around the struggling service.

Marsh will be supporting EMAS on an interim basis, providing advice and support to the executive team. He will work the equivalent of one day a week, starting from Monday 25 April 2016, for a period of 6 months.

It has been confirmed that he will continue his role as CEO of WMAS.

When asked how he intends to ensure his role at WMAS will not be affected by his new position, a spokesperson said: “West Midlands Ambulance Service will operate in the normal way with the executive team continuing to run the organisation in the same way as it normally does, for example when Mr Marsh goes on holiday.”

EMAS chairman, Pauline Tagg, has been in discussions with NHS Improvement over how the service could strengthen its leadership following the departure of its former chief executive, Sue Noyes, due to “personal reasons” in March.

Mr Marsh’s appointment comes at a time when EMAS is facing considerable financial and performance difficulties.

Latest figures released by the Trust reveal a £12.46 million deficit—20 times the planned amount of £0.12 million.

The service’s financial position has triggered escalation with its regulator, the NHS Trust Development Authority, resulting in the application of a loan for £9 million.

Responses to Red 1 calls at EMAS have been well below the national target of 75%, with the service failing to achieve a response within 8 minutes in 7 out of 8 months this year.

In addition to Mr Marsh’s appointment, Richard Henderson is to continue in the role of acting chief executive until further notice. Henderson has held a number of clinical and operational senior managerial roles including divisional director for EMAS’ Lincolnshire division, and chair of the National Ambulance Service Director of Operations Group.

David Whiting is to become chief operating officer for the next 6 months. Whiting has over 30 years’ experience in the ambulance service and previously worked for EMAS as director of operations until 2009.

“I’m excited about my return to EMAS and look forward to working with colleagues and staff to help further improve services for the communities we serve,” said Whiting.

Mike Naylor becomes acting finance director from today, as current director of finance Richard Wheeler leaves EMAS. Naylor has been leading EMAS’ future planning and budgets work for 2016/17 since 1 April.

“These leadership appointments bring expertise, knowledge and experience to allow us to continue to transform and improve services for our patients,” said Tagg.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 22 April 2016.

The bare necessities: delivering first aid in the Calais ‘Jungle’

Student paramedic, Sam Wheeler, treats treats a Sudanese refugee who burned his hand after the tarpaulin used to make up his tent caught fire. Photo Credit: Rose Oloumi

Student paramedic, Sam Wheeler, treats a Sudanese refugee who burned his hand after the tarpaulin used to make up his tent caught fire. Photo Credit: Rose Oloumi

It’s 11:00 am and a group of 20 people are congregated in a small area between three caravans lined up to form a triangle. Amid the din of Arabic, Farsi and French, snatches of broken English can be heard complaining of sore throats or noses that are ‘closed’. A number of medical volunteers are busily trying to organise a queue, with shouts of ‘one at time’ having to be regularly made. This pandemonium could be any health professional’s idea of a nightmare, but this is just another day in the Calais ‘Jungle’.

These volunteers, made up of doctors, nurses, paramedics and students, have sacrificed their weekend to provide first aid within the refugee and migrant camp located on the outskirts of the city. They form part of the Refugee Support First Aid and Care Team, who since September 2015 have been delivering care from the heart of the ‘Jungle’.

Introducing a first aid team to the Calais ‘Jungle’

One of the first aid caravans situated in the camp. Photo Credit: Rose Oloumi

After hearing about the lack of basic medical care available to refugees and migrants in the ‘Jungle’ over weekends, Liz Gall, a luxury wedding planner and former retail bank manager, set up Refugee Support. Founded on 9 August 2015, the aim of the organisation is to take aid over to refugees and migrants residing in the Calais ‘Jungle’.

‘After living in the jungle at weekends for a month, it became apparent that there were no medical facilities available either at night or on a weekend,’ says Gall.

Current medical aid delivered in the camp is limited. As a result of the ‘Jungle’ not being recognised by French authorities as an official ‘refugee camp’, no large charities or humanitarian groups have a real presence on the ground.

Médecins du Monde (MdM) (Doctors of the World) has provided essential medical help to refugees and migrants living in and around Calais and Dunkirk since 2003, but withdrew from the ‘Jungle’ at the end of 2015 after a theft from their building. Médecins sans Frontières (MsF) (Doctors without Borders) has provided aid since early December and runs a health clinic that is open Monday to Friday. However, it is believed its contract ended on 1 March.

It was because of this that Gall felt the need to set up Refugee Support:

‘Following a conversation with Hassan Chaudry (GP) and Raid Ali (dentist) on return from Calais on 14 September, we decided that as there were UK healthcare professionals wanting to help, we would try and make it happen.

‘Our original aim was to provide care on weekends, when MdM were not in the camp. Refugee Support First Aid and Care Team and Refugee Support Dental Team were borne out of this.’

With help from Caravans for Calais, Gall arranged for a caravan to be sent to the ‘Jungle’ from the UK, with the aim of using it as a mobile clinic for refugees and migrants.

‘On Saturday 26 September we opened our first caravan and treated people on the street in the jungle,’ recalls Gall.

The caravan was funded by a group on Facebook called the Creative Collective for Refugee Relief, who had raised money by selling their artwork online. Two further caravans were sent over in the following 2 months to be used for first aid, as well as an additional caravan for dental care.

Map of Calais ‘Jungle’ highlighting medical care points. Map Data ©2016 Google

Map of Calais ‘Jungle’ highlighting medical care points. Map Data ©2016 Google

Volunteering in the ‘Jungle’

First aid shifts within the camp are coordinated through the Refugee Support First Aid and Care Team Facebook group. Health professionals input their dates of availability, as well as contact information and important details such as their registration number. Registration is then checked against the appropriate regulatory body and dates confirmed. Paramedics currently make up a relatively small percentage of the overall first aid volunteers, with the majority being made up of either doctors, nurses or medical students. So far, over 400 people have volunteered as part of the Refugee Support First Aid and Care Team at the camps located in Calais and Dunkirk.

Dan Evans is a final year medical student at Cardiff University overseeing the first aid caravans as team leader over March. He has been at the camp for 2.5 weeks as part of his medical elective and has another 2 weeks remaining.

‘The vast majority of work is making sure people aren’t unwell, aren’t septic,’ says Evans.

According to Evans, patients are predominantly treated for minor ailments such as colds, flu, sore throats and the nasty variety of chest infections referred to as ‘Jungle lung’. Additionally, broken bones, bruises, sprains and cuts are treated following altercations within the camp or with police, or failed attempts at crossing the border into the UK.

The three caravans used by the first aid team are situated towards the north end of the camp and offer patients a private space for consultations. Where possible, patients are treated there and then. In cases where additional care is needed or follow-up required, patients are referred to the clinic run by MsF. Outside, strepsils, cough medicine and bracelets made from tubigrip and cotton wool soaked in olbas oil are dispensed from a counter made of chipboard.

While the majority who come to visit the caravans receive some medicine and are sent on their way, a small number who turn up are considerably unwell. Notably on this weekend, a young man is seen crouched on the dusty floor, cradling his head in his hands. After an examination by a doctor in one of the caravans, it is recognised he has meningitis and is subsequently rushed to the emergency department in the city.

Among the first aid volunteers at the ‘Jungle’ on the weekend of 12 March are a group of student paramedics from the University of Surrey, who between them raised over £1,000 to go towards medical supplies for the caravans.

They used part of the donations to purchase two paramedic rescue backpacks to enable them to act as a mobile clinic and provide first aid on foot to those in need.

Shadowing the students, it is apparent that being able to bring care to those who may not be aware of the existence of the caravans, or who might fear the implications on their claims for asylum by visiting a clinic and having their details recorded, offers the volunteers access to patients not possible before.

‘We have done something really good with starting an outreach programme which they didn’t have,’ says Javier Garcia-Marcos, a second-year student paramedic. ‘As student paramedics I think we are best placed to do that.’

On this weekend alone, a Sudanese refugee is treated for a burn after the tarpaulin used to make his tent caught fire; an Eritrean refugee who was stabbed in the back following an argument in the camp has his dressing changed; and a Kurdish woman who was afraid to visit the MsF clinic is revealed to be pregnant. Having been trying for a child for 5 years, she thanked the student midwife with tears in her eyes and proceeded to invite her inside her caravan for tea.

The general mood within the camp appears friendly, with many of the refugees and migrants all too happy to offer their seat or extend invitations for a hot drink. Yet despite this, there have been a number of reports of volunteers being attacked or intimidated.

When asked whether he feels safe, Evans pauses for thought:

‘There is a lot of crime as everything is unregulated, but I wouldn’t describe it as dangerous,’ he says. ‘If you are British and not wearing a police uniform, people know you are here to help,’ he adds.

The lack of police within the camp is evident and it is clear their presence is not welcome. Instead they stand in groups around the perimeter of the camp, clad from head to toe in riot gear and ready to intervene should any situation escalate.

Speaking to some of the other volunteers, they agree the overall feeling within the camp appears to be positive:

‘The general mood was quite good. I didn’t find any aggressive people and they were quite accommodating,’ says Omar Yusof, a second-year student paramedic at the University of Surrey.

‘I think people need to remember they are not just refugees, they are people,’ says Jordan Wheeler, a second-year student midwife at the University of Surrey. ‘They are just like us, it is naive to refer to them as locals.’

While the volunteers describe the experience as memorable, it has evidently not been without its difficulties:

‘You feel a bit useless as there is no referral,’ says Wheeler.

‘It is difficult to assess people properly due to very basic equipment, it is also difficult to communicate,’ adds Sam Wheeler, a second-year student paramedic at the University of Surrey. ‘However, it has given me a big boost in confidence. Working in a different environment you have to be inventive.’

When asked what advice the volunteers would give to those considering coming out to Calais, they give out a series of practical steps:

‘Bring your own diagnostics kit,’ says Yusof. ‘It would also be best to have people well trained in minor injuries.’

‘Come in teams as that is the way we are used to working. I think working in twos and threes works really well,’ says Garcia-Marcos. ‘Also, try to learn a few words in Arabic, it opens a lot of doors.’

Student paramedic, Javier Garcia-Marcos, examines an Eritrean refugee complaining of knee pain. Photo Credit: Rose Oloumi

Student paramedic, Javier Garcia-Marcos, examines an Eritrean refugee complaining of knee pain. Photo Credit: Rose Oloumi

Future plans

Refugee Support is currently in the process of registering as an official charity, and according to Gall, the future looks bright:

‘In 6 months what we have achieved is phenomenal. Our original aim was to provide weekend care, yet since December we have covered 7 days a week.’

However, the recent destruction of the southern section of the camp—which left up to 3 500 people without homes—and the proposed demolition of the northern section, has meant things have had to be taken one day at a time:

‘As the requirements within the camp change we must adapt with them,’ says Gall. ‘We were due to have a wooden first aid centre built in Calais, but this is currently on hold until we can be certain that the latest news to maintain the northern part of the camp is happening.’

As a result of regular evictions and demolitions, life in the ‘Jungle’ is constantly forced to change. On 4 March, a re-purposed double decker bus was delivered to the camp to replace the Women and Children’s Centre that disappeared when the southern part of the camp was destroyed. The aim of the bus is to offer a safe living space on the ground floor for women and children, and a dormitory upstairs intended for unaccompanied minors. Additionally, a vaccination clinic set up by Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS) International, who have been immunising against influenza and measles, was also forced to move.

However, this constant need for adaptation has not dampened the determination of the volunteers who come to Calais. There is no denying that in the short time since its inception, Refugee Support has gone from strength to strength, yet Gall emphasises it has only been possible because of the people who have dedicated their time to making it a growing concern.

‘We have the most amazing volunteers, and are so grateful to them. Because we are a small group and they are so compassionate, we can adapt at reasonably small notice,’ she concludes.

For more information, or to register your interest in volunteering, visit:

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 1 April 2016.

Welsh Government announces £10.3 million investment in vehicles for ambulance service

The Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust is to receive 94 new vehicles as a result of a £10.3 million investment from the Welsh Government, it was announced today.

Health and Social Services Minister, Mark Drakeford, who made the announcement, said:

“The demand on the Welsh Ambulance Service is growing each year, which is why it’s vital we invest in the latest vehicles so the service can deliver the best care for people in Wales.”

According to Drakeford, the investment will enable the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust to upgrade its fleet. Among the vehicles to be purchased are 35 new emergency ambulances and 13 rapid response vehicles. Additionally, 10 patient care services vehicles capable of carrying stretchers, 32 patient care services vehicles capable of carrying wheelchairs, and four specialist vehicles are to be bought.

It is hoped the additional vehicles will ensure the most appropriate clinician is deployed in the most appropriate vehicle, allowing for the best possible treatment for patients.

The money was allocated to the ambulance service by Jane Hutt, the Minister for Finance and Government Business, as part of the Welsh Government’s Final budget for 2016–17.

The Welsh Government has invested nearly £45 million in new vehicles for the ambulance service since 2011.

Richard Lee, interim director of operations for the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said:

“Our ambulances and response cars in Wales are some of the most modern and well equipped in the UK and this funding will allow us to continue to replace our vehicles as they reach the end of their working life. We are very grateful to the Welsh Government for their continued support.”

Currently the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust has 706 vehicles in its fleet, covering an area of 8,000 square miles within Wales.


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