Sharing isn’t always caring.

It’s a paranoid world out there, and humans have a knack of surviving germs and bugs. But every year we’re offered flu jabs. If we go on holiday to certain countries we’re given vaccinations against all sorts of diseases. The illnesses and diseases can kill, but humanity has survived this far by building up its immunities to some of them. Unfortunately, these days there are “super bugs” – MRSA, Clostridioides difficile (aka C-Diff) and others. Sadly, these super bugs tend to be contracted in medical facilities such as hospitals, so the health organisations in this country have gone a bit mad in an attempt to try to eradicate the germs at the source. This resulted in cleaning programmes in hospital wards, operating theatres, ambulances, ambulance mess rooms…

Yes, mess rooms. Places where ambulance crews relax while they wait to be called out. Someone is employed to make sure these facilities are kept within strict guidelines for infection control set out by people in offices. Our messroom was a small room with three smaller rooms attached to it. One of these rooms had once been a shower room but was now used to store equipment we used on jobs, and our PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) kit bags. Since it had once been a shower room, the light was turned on by means of a pull string attached to a switch in the ceiling. During one random infection control check, our messroom was failed because this short length of string was deemed to be an infection hazard, because it clearly had an impact on the way we did our jobs on the road… The solution – slip some tubing that came with an oxygen mask over it. The next visit it passed.

Understandably, the ambulance was a prime consideration. We did a good job of keeping our ambulance clinically clean. There was still a paranoia within the offices of management. Early in my career, when I was based in the big city, a 999 call came over the tannoy and we were next to respond. I was driver on this occasion. We walked through the garage and climbed into our ambulance. As I started the engine we heard the side door of the vehicle ooen and an alarm sounded in the cabin, then it stopped as the door closed again. My partner and I looked at each other confused, we had no observers on shift that day (junior doctors and nurses often joined crews on shifts to see what we did back then). I turned off the engine, got out of the ambulance and went back to see who had randomly got into the back of the vehicle. On opening the door I saw an ambulance officer with 3 pips on his shoulder. I enquired as to his reason fo being in our ambulance unannounced. The officer (earning vastly more than either of us) explained that they were there to check the crews’ hand hygiene at jobs. I asked for some ID as security of the ambulance was my concern as driver. Arrogantly, they stated that we had a 999 to respond to. I took out my radio and sent a call back request to control. Very quickly the officer produced their identity card. I suggested, politely, that they identify themselves before stepping into ambulances, shut the door and drove to the job.

We later found out that the officer had retired but had then been called back solely for the purpose of checking crews’ hand hygiene, at their original wage. Those checks didn’t last long

We constantly had new procedures, changed procedures too many procedures, all aimed at infection control. We often joked that, after certain jobs, our uniforms, possibly the Ambulance too, would need to be burned. If we followed the procedures to the letter, patients would be left in cars in fields, upside down cars at RTCs, people in dirty houses, drunks lying in vomit. We’d not be allowed to treat them because they were all in unsterile environments.

Thankfully, crews on the road had common sense, and most rules were adapted to allow us to do our job properly.

The world is not a clinically clean place, but I’ve not heard any stories of anyone being infected as a result of pre-hospital care. Besides, ambulance crews don’t want to catch diseases from patients either!

Ambulance crews work hard to care for their patients. Sometimes the people in offices need to trust them to have common sense, and just let them do the job they do well.

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