I’ve nothing against private ambulance organisations. They have a job to do as much as anyone. The theory goes that they end up “scabbing” work from the main Ambulance Service which, in turn, causes resentment. But at the end of the day, a job’s a job.
My own personal view stems from something a little more simple and naive – I believe the work the LAS does, on a whole is excellent. I fear that people look at a truck with the words “Ambulance” on it and club them all into one big organisation, not realising that there are private organisations out there trying to do similar work but who have nothing to do with the LAS. I always thought an Ambulance was an Ambulance – all run by the same people. So, the fear goes that if a private ambulance crew do something bad we (the LAS) get blamed for it.
And then there’s St John’s Ambulance (‘Johnnys’). They’re everywhere. They are a household name in the first aid world – and probably experts and originators on triangular bandage usage. I’ve never met a rude or unhappy St John’s Ambulance person ever, and therefore have nothing bad to say about them. And that’s so annoying!
I was waiting to hand over a patient at the (new) Royal London Hospital when in came a beaming St John’s Ambulance crew bearing a rather intoxicated patient asleep on their trolley bed. The patient’s arm was up in the most perfectly symmetrical triangular bandage I’d ever seen. Walking in with them was a Paramedic from the LAS. His face was placid.
I looked back and forth at the amalgamation of the two different crews and asked the Paramedic what it was about. He told me it was part of a large operation called “Mitre”. The City and Hackney complex of the LAS had put up a makeshift base-camp at Liverpool St whereby over intoxicated revellers were being herded in to be watched over until they were sober enough to go home. All the while several ‘Johnny’ Ambulances would respond to calls (in collaboration with the LAS) and either take them to these base-camps or onto A&E as a last resort. To help with this operation the LAS teamed one of their Paramedics with the ‘Johnny’ crew to guide and give “technical advice”. The whole idea was to relieve the pressures inflicted on the A&E departments over the holiday period.
It is called Operation Mitre only because the area they cover in London resembles the shape of a bishops hat!
I nodded my approval of this idea. The Paramedic concluded by nodding toward the ‘Johnnys’, “Yep, its good as they do all the work AND all the paperwork. I just have to step in if its needed”.
I turned to the ‘Johnny’ standing by the patient. He was young with a very obvious side parting, and as was customary in the St John’s Ambulance Service, his coat was five times too big for him. This was a perfect time to ask a question that had been bugging me for a long time.
“I need to ask, do you get paid for this? Or is it all voluntary?”
“Oh, its all voluntary” His smile stretched from ear to ear and revealed braces on his teeth. “I just get joy and happiness in being able to give something back to the community”.
There was a very long pause.
I glanced over at the Paramedic.
His eyes had glazed over.
I glanced back at the young ‘Johnny’.
His smile broadened.
My god. He meant it. This young man had decided to give up his personal time of an evening in a bid to help look after London’s finest. I was both shocked and ashamed.
The silence was broken by a long burp coming from the patient. As we all looked down we watched him vomit red wine and curry over his white silk shirt.
“Aahvvvuckckeverybodyyavvvuckkerssaahvuckoff . . .” he finished by spitting a lump of stomach contents onto his crotch and went back to sleep.
I looked up at the ‘Johnny’.
His smile held.
I glanced again at the Paramedic.
He rolled his eyes.
I glanced back at the ‘Johnny’ and smiled back.
“Good for you fella.” I said. And I meant it.