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Life on a Covid19 ward with Critical Care Paramedic Simon

In April we experienced a drop in call-outs thanks to the effort from you, our wonderful community, to stay home and save lives. Thanks to your resolve, we redeployed to where we were needed most, working alongside NHS teams at the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic.

We spoke with critical care paramedic Simon, to find out first-hand how your donations are being put to use helping to treat some of the most severely ill Covid19 patients.

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your role at Thames Valley Air Ambulance and how long you have been working for the charity?

After a career in the Royal Air Force, I moved to the ambulance service in 2007 then joining the Thames Valley Air Ambulance as a HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) Paramedic in 2015. I have been with the charity ever since and now work as a Senior Critical Care Paramedic.

There are a few parts to my role but, perhaps most importantly, I work as part of a team of doctors and other Critical Care Paramedics to provide advanced medical care to patients who need us most across the Thames Valley and beyond.

What are the other parts of your role?

I am a helicopter technical crew member, which means I use my experience and training to support the pilot with navigation, radios, and landing when dispatched to patients. It also means I can assist should there be any in-flight emergencies.

I also work at our dispatch desk in Bicester. This involves working alongside one of our Dispatch Assistants to monitor incoming calls to the South Central Ambulance Service. We are able to listen to, and talk directly with, the people making the emergency calls. We can also liaise directly with the ambulance crew who are at or on their way to the scene.

This allows us to assess the emergency and, if it transpires the incident is more serious than initially indicated, we can dispatch our helicopter or one of our Critical Care Response vehicles to support with the expertise and equipment not otherwise available on a traditional ambulance.

While we have continued our essential critical care service, our doctors and paramedics have also been working directly alongside NHS colleagues at hospitals across the region to help support with the coronavirus pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about the ways in which you and the team have had to support?

There are two parts where our service has been helping against coronavirus, going into the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford and setting up an inter-hospital transfer service.

Being redeployed to the hospital has allowed us to bring our skills from pre-hospital medicine whilst increasing the number of staff in the emergency department throughout the pandemic. Working under the supervision of doctors and consultants, we are able to assess, treat and develop care plans for patients, and refer or discharge them if they no longer require emergency treatment.

Because of the type of trauma patients we are typically dispatched to, we’re very familiar with some quite extreme procedures which hospital staff may not see as frequently – so we’ve been able to support the team with our skills and expertise in the hospital.

Tell us about an average day on the Covid ward for you or another member of our crew who are redeployed?

It’s one of those things, there is no one average day at hospital! A typical day starts with a handover from the doctors of the previous shift. After being allocated a specific department within the emergency department we introduce ourselves to the nursing team as we will regularly be working with different teams. Everyone is in good spirits, the staff are really well trained and keen to provide the best care they can for patients.

We’re lucky that quite a few of our consultants work at the John Radcliffe, so there are plenty of familiar faces who know us and can utilise our skillset. For example, as a Critical Care Paramedic I can perform sedations at the scene of an emergency, used normally for relocation of joints or straightening broken limbs; at the John Radcliffe I can use these skills as part of the hospital team  under supervision from a consultant.

In the respiratory side of the emergency department, where patients with suspected Covid19 are treated, we are prepared in full PPE for when we receive patients. You really do not know what type of patients you’ll be treating until they arrive, but patients range from people that walk in with possible symptoms, to those being brought in by ambulance who are very unwell.

It really helps that, because we treat patients in a variety of locations as part of our day job, we’re used to working under pressure and in different scenarios. Our crew is extremely flexible and going into the hospital is just another environment we are able to adapt to.

What about the inter-hospital transfer service, can you tell us what that involves?

The inter-hospital transfer service was setup to help prevent Intensive Care Units (ICU) from becoming full by transferring patients to other ICUs or – if they were on the road to recovery and didn’t require such a high level of care – different departments at nearby hospitals.

It’s quite different from the work we normally do. In trauma we’re normally trying to get patients to hospital as quickly as possible, but this type of work is more deliberate and methodical.

We were very kindly loaned two ambulances from St John Ambulance. In order for us to transfer Covid-19 patients successfully, we have kitted these vehicles with equipment you wouldn’t normally see in an ambulance such as ventilators. It was a real team effort to get this service implemented and the team trained on a completely new process in such a short space of time – everyone pulled together to make this happen.

Do you have any words for our readers?

A huge thank you! We can only do what we do because of your support. Simply put, without your generous donations our service would not exist. Your support has enabled us to assist our NHS colleagues during this pandemic.

The messages we receive on a daily basis really brighten our day, and we’re extremely grateful to the individuals and businesses who kindly donated PPE – we’ve been using these since the day they arrived and we can’t thank you enough.

Please look out for each other during this pandemic. My big thing, personally, is to look after your friends and family. Get your exercise and keep healthy – both physically and mentally!

Lastly, thank you for the sacrifices you continue to make to help slow the spread of the virus. Please continue to follow the advice from the Government as and when it is released and stay alert.