'We're beyond crisis' - paramedic warns 'something has to change' in NHS

  • Watch Shane Clark speak about the pressures paramedics are facing this winter

NHS staff have warned the ambulance service in the South West is now 'beyond crisis' and at 'rock bottom' following the Christmas period.

Shane Clark, who is also a vice chairman for the Unison union, said the situation is 'horrendous'.

Speaking to ITV News West Country, Shane warned that the current pressures on the ambulance service are untenable, saying 'something has to change'.

"The word that I'm hearing battered about at the moment is 'crisis - the NHS is in crisis'. I think we've beyond crisis now, I think we're at rock bottom now and I'm really, really concerned as we move forward," Shane said.

The paramedic, who is a paramedic for the South Western Ambulance Service, warned he believes this winter has been the worst year for the ambulance service in more than a decade.

Shane said: "Fifteen years I've been in the frontline ambulance service and I have not seen a Christmas as bad and as bleak as I have seen over this Christmas period. It's very, very sad."

Queues of ambulances seen waiting outside of the Royal Cornwall Hospital earlier in 2022

It comes as more than half of all patients arriving at hospital by ambulance in the South West were left waiting more than one hour before being handed over to A&E staff in mid-December.

Last week also saw the region's ambulance service declare a critical incident, with almost 500 patients left waiting for an ambulance by midday on one day. It has since been stood down.

Shane is warning the situation is 'dire', with several dozen ambulances sometimes stuck at hospitals waiting to offload patients.

"It's been horrendous," he said.

"30 ambulances - that's some of the numbers that we are aware of - of ambulances waiting. We musn't forget, when there's 30 ambulances outside those hospitals, that's 30 ambulances that are not responding to those life-threatening calls in a timely manner.

"That is what concerns me most and the Christmas period is absolutely dire, it really, really has [been]."

He said some patients have been left waiting inside ambulances parked up at hospitals for more than 10 hours in some cases.

Paramedics at the South Western Ambulance Service have warned that 'something has to change'

"A lot of these patients are elderly, a lot of these patients are frail," he said.

"At the same time, a lot of these patients need to be in the front door of that emergency department, because that's where they're going to get the best level of care," Shane said.

'I think the future is bleak'

Paramedics are also concerned that though the festive period is over, another cold snap with sub-zero temperatures, such as the one in early December, could bring even more strain on an already stretched ambulance service.

Shane said: "We're still in winter, we've still got two [to] three months of this weather that we're experiencing now. This cold snap, if it returns, I think the future is bleak.

But asked what the solution to the current crisis the ambulance service is facing, Shane replied that there is no "quick fix".

"It's been like this for the last ten, 11, 12 years, there is no quick fix. Something has to change, we can't go on like this," he warned.

People urged only to call 999 in life-threatening situations

Despite the critical incident being stood down, South Western Ambulance Service's strategic commander Rich Marlow said it remains under "significant pressure".

"It is therefore crucial that we maintain our focus over the coming days and weeks to prevent further pressure on the service," he added. 

“I would like to thank the public for taking on board the need to only call 999 in life-threatening or serious emergencies requiring our immediate assistance over the new year period. 

"To ensure that our control rooms teams and emergency responders can continue to respond to patients where there is a life or death emergency, I would urge everyone to continue using 999 appropriately as many people have done over the weekend."