Exclusive: How a year of coronavirus has taken a toll on paramedics in the south

Exclusive video report by ITV News Meridian's Stacey Poole

The pressures faced by doctors and nurses during this pandemic has been well documented, but what about paramedics?

They are always the first at the scene of any medical emergency, and with Covid, that means facing an unknown danger every time. 

South Central Ambulance Service has had 648 staff contract Covid-19 (that equates to just under 16% of the total workforce), with some still recovering and unable to return to work.

Throughout the pandemic and prior, paramedics are always the first faces seen in a medical emergency, but Covid exposed them to risks that none of them had signed up for.

Paramedic Lauren Goss caught the virus in March 2020 just before the first lockdown.

Paramedic Lauren Goss Credit: ITV News Meridian

She says: "I was unable to put socks on because I was too short of breath. And then I had a lot of confusion with that as well which is quite debilitating. Not being able to read or write or understand what people were saying to me was quite difficult."

Lauren took 3 months off work, before finally returning in June. However 8 months later she caught Covid again and this time it was far worse, ending up in hospital.  

It was a very dark time, and Lauren is still struggling to recover. 

"I can't walk distance, any kind of uphill or if its too windy or anything like that, then I can't breathe properly."

It means she's not able to work or do anything physical, with so much of her former life taken away.

"I feel like at the moment I'm a completely different person to who I was before. It feels like something has been taken away from you, and I don't know if its ever going to come back."

But Lauren is not the only paramedic that's paid a hefty price for working on the front line.

William Gulliford's wife was pregnant when Covid arrived and he knew he posed a huge threat to her, their son, and their unborn baby.

Paramedic William Gulliford

So he made the heartbreaking decision to move into a caravan on his parent's drive, not seeing them at all for 3 months.

William says: "It was very emotional for me and my wife. When she'd phone me in the evenings, she'd be in tears because she was really struggling to cope at home. But I couldn't show her my emotion because then she would worry about me and I didn't want her to worry about me."

William says coping with his emotions and the pressures at work took its toll.

He says: "There were times once we'd finished a job that I'd just take a walk, clear my head, away from people, just so I could process what I'd just been to."

Meanwhile for those new to the profession, Covid was a brutal start to their career.

Keiran Rowley joined the ambulance service from the Army, but even his time as a soldier could not prepare him for the suffering he would see. 

Paramedic Keiran Rowley Credit: ITV News Meridian

He says: "When I joined the ambulance service just over 12 months ago, the ambulance service was really fun, saving lives, the trust, the amount of people that wanted you to help them. And then Covid put so much more pressure on that. It's difficult and it is hard. Maybe I just joined at the wrong time!"

"There's been a few days where I've been very stressed and I've been very down and I've shed a tear on the way home. It is difficult."

The pressure on paramedics has been unprecedented, offering a selfless service and putting their lives at risk to protect others, and they will continue to do so.