This site is intended for health professionals only


The NHS is the little old lady waiting for an ambulance



copperfield duo 1500x1000px

Really annoying, isn’t it? You know, when a little old lady goes and trips over in the corridor outside your room, fracturing her hip. And lies there moaning gently, not having had the foresight to go and break her NOF where other patients don’t have to step gingerly around her, prompting inevitable enquiry and explanation, nor having had the courtesy to do it at a time when I’m not already running half an hour late. Christ, some people.

Except, of course, it isn’t annoying at all. Beneath that rough, tough exterior, we’re caring, sharing medical professionals. So any inappropriate hint of negativity is immediately swamped by the overwhelming urge to help. Cue receptionists providing blankets and pillow and nurses with serious analgesics. Thanks, I say, now how about something for the patient, ha ha!

Yes, that’s the patient whose elderly grey hair I’m gently stroking as she apologises for causing a fuss. ‘Don’t worry,’ I say, ‘the ambulance will be here in a minute.’ Ah. Big mistake. True, I’ve heard rumours of ambulances taking the scenic route to surgeries, as this Pulse investigation bears out. But, come on, this is a little old lady in a lot of pain.

Yet, no kidding, when I glance down the corridor well over an hour later, nothing has changed. OK, her moaning is a little weaker and our nurse kneeling beside her has developed her own wonky leg. Also, I swear the patient’s moved down the corridor a bit – presumably trying to drag herself and her broken hip out the exit, through the pouring rain and street detritus all the way to the doors of the local hospital, knowing that this will be quicker than dialling 999.

The ambulance crews are suffering the same horrendous constraints as the rest of us

It would, of course, be easy to hurl invective at the ambulance service for this apparent dereliction of duty. Hang on, though. They, after all, are merely suffering the same horrendous constraints as the rest of us, sitting impossibly between the rock of escalating demand and the hard place of inadequate funding.

The reason why we can’t get an ambulance in an acceptable time is the same as the reason why patients can’t get to see their GP for weeks, and why A&Es are in winter meltdown all year round, and why the CBT wait is beyond the natural history of most mental illnesses, the same as just about every other example of inadequacy in the NHS.

We’re all in it together, the problem being that what we’re in is the shit. I realise this is hardly breaking news. But there is something about an osteoporotic crack outside your surgery that brings it all into sharp focus.

So I will hurl invective. Not at those procrastinating paramedics. But at a system that can pat itself on the back for promoting instant digital, palm-top GPs for the worried well while leaving an elderly woman in a crumpled, fractured heap in my surgery corridor.

If that sounds dangerously like sanctimonious crap, it’s true sanctimonious crap.

The NHS needs a blue-light ambulance. And it has already waited ages.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex