Gallery: The business of saving lives

East of England Ambulance Service Emergency Care Assistant Dave Banks and Paramedic John Kelly took

East of England Ambulance Service Emergency Care Assistant Dave Banks and Paramedic John Kelly took Star reporter Lizzy Parry for a ride-a-long on Tuesday to show her what a typical day out is like. - Credit: Archant

They are on the frontlines of the NHS, keeping us safe 24 hours a day, Health reporter Lizzie Parry joined a crew from the East of England Ambulance Service for a 12-hour shift to get an insight into life behind the 999 call.

It’s 7am and I am not good at early starts.

Thankfully the crew tasked with showing me the ropes for the day are much more productive in the wee hours of the morning.

Paramedic John Kelly and emergency care assistant Dave Banks will be my guides – their first job, a cup of tea.

But before I know it the first call comes in.


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Sirens and blue lights blaring and we are heading for Alderman Recreation Ground, close to the Portman Road home of Ipswich Town.

The message flashing on the ambulance computer tells the crew police have raised the alarm after receiving reports of a man unconscious in the park.

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But the urgency quickly subsides when halfway along Spring Road the call is cancelled.

According to the crew, police officers often call on them for back up in similar situations. But more often than not, they turn out to be nothing.

And so control dispatch us to the Chantry standby point, at McDonald’s in Ranelagh Road.

Jumping out to grab a coffee Dave tells me they are free to ambulance staff: “The guy that owns the franchise for McDonald’s in Ipswich (Mark Richards) has allowed the trust to use most of the car parks as standby points in the town.”

The next call comes in. An elderly man in Whitton suffering chest pains.

One of the first things I learnt – and this should be a lesson to all us motorists – indicate, tell the ambulance driver man behind you what it is you are trying to do to get out of their way.

When we arrive, the gentleman’s wife opens the door. Her husband, who is in his 80s, has been suffering pain in his left side.

Paramedic John is quick to find out more and is instantly reassuring, guiding him through his symptoms while directing ECA Dave to carry out the basic tests.

John tells the patient his symptoms don’t seem to point to problems with his heart but his GP can’t make it out to see him and following a chat with the doctor, John decides further tests at Ipswich Hospital are wise, given the man’s age and history.

In the last few weeks the ambulance service has deployed a paramedic to A&E to help in the smooth transition from ambulance to hospital bay, in a bid to crackdown on lengthy handover times, which can have an impact on the trust’s response times.

Call number three comes in... reports of a youngster who has collapsed at Thomas Wolsey School in Defoe Road.

Heaping praise on ambulance crews, headteacher Matthew Brackenbury tells me the school are regularly calling on the ambulance service to help their pupils, who all have complex needs and learning disabilities.

The teenager has suffered a fit and is struggling to breathe.

Within minutes they have the young lad stabilised and on to the stretcher. Back to Ipswich Hospital we go.

The next call is a suspected overdose. We pull up at the house in south east Ipswich and discover an 18-year-old at home alone. He has called 999 after overdosing on his anti-depressants.

Watching John gently speaking to the lad, it is clear you have to be a special kind of person to work on the frontline of our NHS.

Putting his patient at ease John appears, to an outsider like me, to go above and beyond, taking the time to talk to the youngster to try and see what prompted him to take the tablets.

Meanwhile Dave is trying to find the drugs so they know exactly what they are dealing with.

We take him off to the hospital.

Back out on the road after lunch and it is not long until the next job – an elderly lady who has fallen. Arriving at the 84-year-old’s home she is clearly distressed and on the floor.

Within minutes our lady is back up in her favourite chair.

John tells me he is going to get the admission avoidance car out to our lady. This relatively new venture, introduced by the trust, has already saved money and improved patient care.

Towards the end of the day we receive the most serious level of call and I sense the urgency.

Control tell the crew the patient is an elderly lady who is struggling for breath in Woodbridge.

Thankfully arriving at the scene, the lady appears to be better than first reported. But it is a sad tale. The husband tells the crew he fears his wife has dementia but hasn’t been diagnosed. It is plain to see the impact his wife’s condition has had on him as primary carer.

The crew put both the patient and her husband at ease and soon we are back to Ipswich Hospital for a final time.

Heading back to base, I can’t believe 12 hours have flown by. And the crew tell me, that was a quiet shift.

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