Manchester Arena attack paramedic 'let down' by North West Ambulance Service

A paramedic who was one of the first responders the night of the Manchester Arena bombing says the ambulance service failed to provide her with proper mental health support following the attack.

Lea Vaughan was part of a specialist team of just three paramedics sent into the foyer after Salman Abedi, detonated his shrapnel-packed, home-made rucksack bomb, killing 22 people and injuring hundreds more.

Following the atrocity on the 22 May 2017, Lea realised she was struggling with her mental health.

As part of North West Ambulance Service Hazardous Area Response Team (HART), she'd had specialist training in how to deal with a terrorist attack.

But Lea says no amount of training could prepare her for what she was about to face.

There could have been a secondary device or an active shooter and Lea placed her own life at risk to help as many people as she could.

Lea Vaughan describes the impact of the attack on her mental health

The paramedic was referred to occupational health seven months after the attack, but by then it was too late to prevent the post traumatic stress disorder she now suffers.

In December 2021 she was declared medically unfit to work.

Despite her diagnosis however she says the support she thought she would get from the ambulance service was not there.

Lea Vaughan describes the moment she was asked to enter the scene of the blast

The North West Ambulance Service has come under immense scrutiny over why it didn’t send more paramedics into the area where the bomb detonated.

Casualties were instead carried out of the Arena to the station concourse at Victoria train station and treated there.

But this took a considerable amount of time and meant many members of the public ended up treating the injured as best they could with very little first aid knowledge or equipment.

Paramedics Chris Hargreaves and Lea Vaughan climbing the stairs to the raised footbridge on their way to Manchester Arena.

The Ambulance Service admit more specialists should have gone in but say it was too dangerous for operational paramedics who didn't have the protective gear or proper training.

It’ll be for the public inquiry into the bombing to decide whether they made the right decision.

Lea Vaughan believes more specialist HART paramedics should have been sent in to help her but says the area wasn't suitable for operational paramedics

Ged Blezard, Director of Operations at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), said: "The actions of all the first responders to the Arena incident were incredibly brave and commendable.

"The welfare of our staff is always of the utmost importance to us, but especially after incidents such as this, and a wide range of support options are available.

"These include, but are not limited to, team reflections and debriefing sessions, priority access to trauma counselling, drop-in counselling sessions, support from NWAS colleagues trained in trauma risk assessment for mental health, and access to other mental health support services.

"With further investigations and legal proceedings underway in relation to these specific claims, we are unable to comment further."

Lea Vaughan hopes speaking out will ensure better support for those who still serve on the front line. 

The 22 victims of the Manchester Arena Attack.