I returned to the road last week after a couple of months off recovering from Covid, most probably caught at work from a patient. More than half the patients we were seeing before Christmas had symptoms.
The numbers are noticeably lower on my return, and workload has reduced generally, though not compared to the first lockdown, when the streets were very quiet and everybody wanted to stay away from hospitals. There seemed to be an increase in calls to community cardiac arrests back then, as people got really sick at home but were scared to contact health services.
I catch up on who is off work with Covid. A couple of workmates had been admitted to hospital. All those I know who’ve gone in have been men in their 50s. But a young workmate updated me about his recent worsening breathlessness.
On my first call I quickly remember the eye-wear we’ve been given as part of our PPE is totally unsuitable. It clouds up and then falls off as I bend over to talk to an elderly woman on the floor after a fall. Most people are using googles they’ve bought themselves. I file yet another report.
We take the patient to hospital but are turned away at the door. The department is full and we’ll have to wait with her in the ambulance until there’s space. The busier we get, the less we do, because of the delays.
On the next call I want to take the patient to the local minor injuries unit, rather than A&E. It’s closer and usually quicker for patients. When I call I’m told it’s closed, temporarily, to make more space for Covid treatment areas.
The unit has been saved from closure twice by campaigners, so later in the shift I ask a nurse, who does occasional shifts there, about it. He says staff assume closure will be permanent. Some in the NHS hierarchy are obviously not too busy to push through their long-held plans. Never waste a crisis as they say.
We have a steady day but get a call 15 minutes from the end of our shift, miles away. That means we’ll be really late off again. When we get back to station there’s a crew waiting. Our extended shift has meant no vehicle for them. I think back to the beautiful graphs we were shown by management when the last rota change came in.
• Alice Hazel is a paramedic and Unison activist