Tuesday, 22 January 2013

21 seconds

“23 year old male, light headed, hasn’t slept”

It was one of those nights! Relentless from start to finish, no down time between jobs, no chance to eat decent food, horrible patients, a mix of alcohol and mental health with the odd contact with bodily fluid. Not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination! I was knackered, it was 6am and after 25 minutes of driving we made it back to station without a job. This was a bad thing in terms of finishing on time. We hadn’t had a break which changes timings slightly. 

Right, for those not in the know on the ins and outs of ambulance services complex rest brake policy let me try and explain. On a 12-hour shift you are entitled to a 45-minute break. Of those 45 minutes, 30 minutes are protected and 15 minutes are interruptible. This means in the last 15 minutes of your break you can be given a cardiac arrest if you are the nearest available crew.  During your shift you can only be given your break during your break window. This runs from 4 hours after your shift start time to 2 hours and 45 minutes before you shift end.  All breaks can only be taken at the ambulance station where you are working from so to get a break you have to be sent by control back to station and once arrived they ring you to give you your break time. Simple! Right?! Now, if you don’t get a break, which is the case 95% of the time, you get your break at the end of the shift. The only difference is that your interruptible part of the break is at the beginning. That means on a 7am finish you can be given a cardiac arrest from 6:15-6:30am. From 6:30 you are finished. Job done!

Now, back to the shift! As I said, it was 6am. If we got a job now, we would be seriously late off. We sat on station begging for 6:15 to come. We waited and waited, seconds past, minutes past. We were almost there! After a night of getting worked to the bone we were going to finish on time. We also had the safety net of a crew that started at 6am who were sat on station so they could take a late job if we were unlucky enough to get one in the next 2 minutes. 

1 minute.

45 seconds.

30 seconds.

25 seconds.

21 seconds…….the radio starts beeping and vibrating. Really?!

I got up off the sofa, headed out of the mess room, down the corridor, into the garage and pressed the button to accept the job. The time stamp on the screen was 06:15:06. The job was a very low category of call, not a cardiac arrest. The other crew had got into their ambulance fully expecting it to be transferred to them. I called up control. 

“Morning red base, just been send CAD 912, just to advise, we are in our interruptible rest break and are Red 1s only now”

“The job was dispatched at 06:14:39, you were not in your interruptible break then”

“OK, then could you send it down to the early turn as they are on station and willing to take it?”

“No, I’ve sent it to you”

“This will make us massively late off, we are currently in our rest break.”

“That isn’t my problem, you weren’t when I dispatched it”

I didn’t bother responding. I was too livid. I can’t ever recall being so angry. So angry in fact I seriously considered quitting there and then. This is no life; enforced overtime when there is no need was not what I signed up to. I’m not evening blaming the system or the management of the system. I don’t for a minute think that this was a managerial decision, it was a decision made by a dispatcher in a bad mood. A dispatcher who is guaranteed to finish their shift on time, regardless of whether the crews they have send off are hours from finishing. A dispatcher who has had a 10-minute break for every hour they have spent in front of their screen. 

We drove the 9 miles to the job through the rush hour traffic. To add insult to injury, our patient was complaining of having not slept. Funny that.....neither had we! 

“What’s the problem this morning?”

“I feel light headed and I’ve been awake all night”

“How long have you felt like this?”

“Since lunch time yesterday”

“Are you fasting at the moment?”

“Yes”

“Have you had this before?”

“Yes, every time I fast”

It was a frustrating conversation. Why if you know the cause would you not do something about it?! What is a hospital going to do? What is an ambulance going to do?! It is personal choice to fast and part of religious beliefs but surely if it causes the need for an ambulance every day something has to give?! Anyway, that aside we headed off to hospital. That was 3 miles in the wrong direction. 

At 7:45am we arrived at hospital. At 8:15 we left hospital. At 09:05 we arrived back on station. At 09:15 we signed out and left station. At 10:10 I arrived home. It was almost 17 hours since I left my house for work. It was just over 6 hours until I would have to leave again. My shift was 14 hours and 15 minutes without a break. Of that, 2 hours and 45 minutes was enforced overtime. What part of any of that is fair? What part of any of it is right? No one is accountable for this, there is no one to complain to and if we did, there would be no outcome that would change a thing. 21 seconds. 21 seconds almost made me quit the job I love. 21 seconds was all that was needed to leave me exhausted for the rest of the run of shifts. 

43 comments:

  1. That is absolutely appalling. I'm a cop, and I'm pleased to say that none of our dispatchers would ever dream of being so rude! Well done for not biting, mate!

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  2. My god!! I'm so angry for you. What a ridiculous system.

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  3. That's utter stupidity and dangerous. The dispatcher should be held to account. I'd be out of my job if I did that. You are a better person than me, I think I'd have more to say!

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately there is no real complaints procedure!

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  4. Can you not start a complaints system ?

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    1. I don't think anyone would want to stick their head on the parapet!

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  5. Weve got 2 respond if were on break or not now, we put a complaint system via unions in place for just such an event. It hasnt compstppped them but has helped. Working time directive says uv got 2 have 11 hrs rest btween shifts unless u choose 2 do o/t and that ur not supposed 2 get ur break outwith ur workn hours. What a joke eh?

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    1. You can enforce that and come in late but then you don't get paid for the late finish!

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    2. Yeh thats true, we lost our undisturbed break when we had a similar prob 2 the midalnds when there was an arrest but crew were on there break, management hung them out 2 dry even tho they didnt know about it cos they wanted us on call all the time and it worked. Its not 2 much 2 ask for a break and for control 2 use some common sense. Oh there nxt thing is they want us back on 8 hr shift so they can cut unsocial hours lol

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    3. AAaahhh common sense! Theres a novelty!

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  6. I'm curious - why did you decide to bring this person to hospital? If they weren't displaying any signs of cardiopulmonary distress, why did they require a hospital visit?

    Can't you just say, you have low blood sugar, you don't need hospital - you need to drink some lucozade or eat something? I assume the person was a muslim, and their religion permits them to break a fast if they become unwell.

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    1. I would have happily left him at home and despite my advise he wanted to go to hospital and we are not aloud to refuse!

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    2. Thanks for clarifying. It's crazy you're not allowed to refuse in that sort of situation.

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    3. I know! I so wish we could!

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  7. I work in control, and that is horrendous. Luckily most dispatchers aren't like that.

    As a counterpoint though, I've seen quite a few times (especially around the christmas period) recently where dispatchers were busting themselves trying to stay on top of a massive stack of calls and trying to get everyone fed at the same time - but some crews weren't happy with the situation so just booked sick instead, sometimes as calls were being passed to them. Meal breaks will always be an issue for confrontation between control and crew, and it's mainly because of a very small number of people on both sides taking the piss.

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    1. Totally agree. Some crews do take the piss and it annoys me! As the christmas, at a local station this year 9 members of staff went off sick on christmas day. Its disgusting. They planned to do it together, everyone knew it was planned but there is nothing that can be done about it. They felt they should be earning the same as people on overtime so just took the day off. They are scum in my opinion, absolute scum. I have no respect for any of them. These people should be removed from the service, they let the rest of us down. Just old, bitter, unionised fools.

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  8. Karl shortfatbaldman22 January 2013 at 14:55

    I think you did well to hold it together, I work in the transport industry as a lorry driver and as such am governed by my driving hours and have on more occasions than I can remember had to ring and refuse jobs that have been sent due to running out of hours.

    I have quit jobs on the spot due to the enforced overtime rule.

    You must get a lot of job satisfaction Ella, you are from what I have read in your blogs especially your last one "a beautiful death" a very compassionate person, I take my hat off to you and my heart goes out to you.

    Don't let them grind you down.

    Karl

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    1. There is a lot of job satisfaction which is why we put up with being messed around but these late finishes are what are causing so many people to quit. Thanks for the comment :)

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  9. We're lucky as we can refuse to take people to hospital if we have spoken to the OOH team and they agree which it sounds like they would have done in this case.

    We have a 30min meal break which has to be taken in 'the window' which is 80 mins either side of the mid way point of our shift. If that's not possible then we get £10.
    If there was a serious job such as a local cardiac arrest and no crews then a general broadcast would come through on the radio and I don't know of anyone who would not radio back and volunteer.

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    1. I wish we could refuse!! We also only get to hear stuff on a general broadcast but there have been times ive offered up knowing i'll be the nearest and told no! They'd rather save the £10!

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  10. Our control do seem to be reasonably sensible-long may it continue, I think it does help that lots of them have partners in front-line.

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    1. To be fair, this was an incident with one controller but it shouldnt be allowed to happen. On the whole our dispatchers are absolutely excellent!

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  11. Do you have AIR/Datex forms?
    Mind, a quiet word with a Control Manager may not go amiss.
    For the most part, our controllers wouldn't pull such a stunt
    They do get grumpys ometimes. I get a tad grumpy right back at them but, in the main, they're a decent bunch.
    Mostly, our jobs take 3hours so if we're called near the end of our shift we can end up 3+ hours over.
    The job in itself is fine but late finishes do encroach in to one's personal life and you never truly have that specific time.
    I guess you could talk directly to the controller and ask what's "eating them"

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    1. Unfortunately you cant have quiet words! I did send an email including control, sector, and station management and also the union and never got any reply!

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  12. As a dispatch officer I know one or two people who might pull the same sort of trick but I've not witnessed anything like that. Most of us try to assist a crew to finish on time if possible but the job is so unpredictable it just doesn't happen.

    Your control staff have it easy! We usually get a 10 min screen break on a day shift (not guaranteed). No screen break on a night shift. We are not certain of getting a 45 min lunch either and quite often 1 or 2 people miss out . 3 of the busiest 12 night shifts I have worked 24th - 26th Dec no one had a break in any shift

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    1. It is just individuals, by no means is it a problem with control!

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  13. Your meal break policy sounds awful, as does your dispatcher. Where i work, we have two half hour breaks in a 12hour shift. Both are uninterruptable and its the dispatchers prerogative to interrupt if its appropriate eg arrest or major rtc. Also, control send out day staff if they are there to relieve, if they aren't, they send them out when they get in to back up providing another red or amber doesn't come in and they aren't sent to greens. No wonder you were raging

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  14. That's atrocious! I'm shocked that you can be treated in such an appalling manner. Know that the general public appreciate the hard work that you've done.

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    1. Thank you, im know moat of them do

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  15. Sounds awful, one consolation you get paid the overtime. I'm a CP social worker and when I am in court until 11 pm have to remove and place a child and then drive 2.5 hours home I stop being paid at 5pm am told to take TOIL but have no time to take it due to workload pressures. I have IDDM and can count on one hand how many times I've had a lunch break in the last 8 years. Almost forgot when I get he at 3am I have to update my systems in case something goes wrong between then and 8 when I'm back in work. I work on average 60 hours a week "fire fighting" to keep children safe during my 7.5 paid hours and doing my recording and planned work outside of these hours unpaid neglectimg my iwn family. I get so angry when bankers get £100k bonuses and moan they have been cut etc. in your case the NHS outsources call centres pays peanuts and gets ill equipped monkeys.

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    1. True, but at the time and a short time after I most definitely didnt appreciate it!

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  16. I feel your pain, they got me with 14 seconds to go the other night. Sometimes taking their initials makes them think twice.

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    1. Gits!! I had one refuse to give me initials! He said 'ive already given them to you once, im not repeating myself'!!

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  17. I work in control but as a clinician, I am sure if one of our dispatchers displayed that attitude the control manager would deal with it. That's disgraceful and incompetent pig headed behavior. X

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  18. You need to join a decent service mate, they aren't all like this.

    Not often I have to refuse transport, which is probably down to the demographic round here. However, the firm supports us when we do.

    Time to join the 21st Century!

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    1. I think all services have drawbacks and positives. Is the grass really ever greener?!

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  19. That is just dreadful - and so very unfair - who on earth come up with such a stupid system - obviously someone that doesn't have to follow it

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    1. Isnt that the NHS management way?!

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  20. Our dispatchers tend to look after us and are really apologetic if they have to use us. Our system seems a bit fairer than yours. 25 minutes before the end of a shift, we can only be given a red call. Have had the odd occasion where we have arrived to find a pt hadn't needed a red call but rarely happens now.

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