Have you fixed work yet? A question from my four-year-old son!
A sad day in every respect, and a reflection I never wanted to write.
Written by Carl Betts
I am writing this piece on the evening of the 20th of December 2022 sat in my living room while my young children are in bed, sat by a warm fire where I should feel relaxed.
It is the eve of the day that none of us want to be a part of but now feel that no other option is available to us.
I’m a paramedic, an NHS paramedic, a proud NHS paramedic who is privileged to work in a vital role within our health care system. I’m also the son of a mother who spent 30 proud years as a nurse in the NHS and as such this fine institution has been a part of my life since the day I was delivered into the world at Cameron’s hospital in the small coastal town of Hartlepool on November the 19th 1980.
Tomorrow will be a momentous day for all the wrong reasons, and it absolutely should not be needed. Tomorrow is the day that we as a profession and as ambulance trust staff stand shoulder to shoulder on a picket line to formally offer the only option we have left to state how we feel by withholding our labour and formally striking. We are broken as people working with broken systems and outdated and underfunded infrastructure to name a few issues. The result of these broken systems is our patients and us as a workforce suffer. It really hurts us when day-in, day-out we can’t deliver the absolute best care because of circumstances out of our control, where our colleagues are fed up of apologising to patients and their families because there loved one has been on the floor for a shocking length of time and then apologising that they are sat in the back of an ambulance for hours waiting to enter the hospital.
Tomorrow when the picket lines happen, be clear, we are caring professional people who are making this stand because of exactly that. We care! We care about the NHS, we care about our patients, we care about our colleagues, and we care because we are passionate about what we do.
This strike is very different to previous. Strikes in the ambulance sector have previously been called due to discontent between the workforce and the organisation who the staff are employed by. This strike is different in that we are not striking because of a local issue, we are striking because of the national carnage that is going on throughout the whole NHS. This makes my decision to strike even more difficult because our senior leaders and our colleagues who aren’t members of a union or have chosen not to strike (which I commend as this decision will not have been taken lightly by many) will have to cover a service that is already at breaking point, and I apologise to them all for the added stress the strike action I have been a part of may have caused.
It's now the morning of the 21st of December and the day has arrived that the action will begin. It’s a fine day thankfully, which will make the thought of standing on a picket much more bearable. When I arrive on the line the first thing, I notice is that there is a sense of unity, a sense of we all have each other’s backs and dare I say it a sense of happiness. It’s very rare that we as a cohort of people get to spend any time with each other where we can and have a chat, because time on station on normal days is a very distant dream due to demand. The other striking note was the number of passers-by who beeped their horn or shouted support which is always comforting knowing that our communities understand why we are doing what we are doing. However, there was also the word regret noted on multiple occasions by multiple people about getting to this point and not feeling like there are many alternatives.
When I arrive home my kids have just finished their pudding and my 4-year-old son asked me if I’d fixed work yet. I said I hadn’t, but I was trying. I soon started to muse over a statement Aneurin Bevin is believed by many sources to have stated “It (the NHS) will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. I write this knowing that my colleagues and I live by this, and therefore today I joined a picket and withheld my labour.
When I started writing this piece 24 hours ago, I noted my kids were in bed asleep completely oblivious to the actual detail of the challenges that we face. I hope one day they will read this and be proud of the fact that their daddy stood up for what he believed and made a very difficult decision to try and safeguard one of the pillars of our identity and force the current, future, and past political institutions into admitting that it is there failings that have led us down this road. It is not my colleagues who have battled through a torrid few years and saved countless lives, consoled countless relatives and made very scared patients smile through our deep engrained desire to care.
We are the care givers, but we are also human, and we need care ourselves. Please start looking after the care givers as we only have so much to give and like a car, if it isn’t refuelled it will be unable to function.
This is where we are now, running on empty with very little more to give.
Time will tell if our deep-rooted concerns and frustrations have been listened to. I’m not hopeful and as a result I genuinely fear for the future of the health system in our country.
I for one in my role am determined to make as much positive change as I can and will sleep knowing that I’ve done my best and I hope my colleagues can also reflect to the same point.
Nelson Mandela famously wrote “After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are many more hills to climb” (A long walk to freedom), This is the greatest hill the NHS and the ambulance sector has climbed and there will be many more to go but we can’t climb them alone. We need support and a bit of love from the absolute top of the political system to stop this ambulance rolling all the way to the bottom in a ball of flames. The time is now, we cannot wait. Please listen to us. We are not making this stand just to be difficult, we are making this stand because we feel we have no other option left to us.
I hope this little piece has offered you some clarity as to why I have chosen the decision I have made today.
Your faithfully, a very sad and scared ambulance paramedic.