Don’t believe the Covid coping spin, those on the road know the health system is in meltdown | A paramedic

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Regardless of who they get to speak at the sanitised press conferences, no one has come close to describing the strain the healthcare system is feeling. It’s buckling.

Every day I come to work as a paramedic in south-west Sydney, things have ramped up. They are retrofitting sections within the hospital to deal with the overflow of Covid patients. I don’t recognise the hospitals any more, it all feels very apocalyptic.

The reports suggest children don’t get too sick with Covid which is true, but the downside is their parents do, which sometimes leaves us in a tricky spot.

The other night I had a single parent with two kids under 10. They were all Covid-positive and the mum was very unwell, very short of breath. I could not convince her to come to hospital as she didn’t want to be separated from her kids (we would have had to take them to the children’s hospital separately).

I had to coach her eight-year-old daughter how to recognise respiratory distress and told her to sleep in her mum’s bed. She said she knew how to call 000 and she knew her address, but putting that burden on an eight-year-old was heartbreaking.

This woman had not yet heard from public health (she just received a text that day to say she was positive) so I had to try to expedite a call as I was concerned she would deteriorate badly overnight.

It’s hard to sleep at night sometimes thinking about the patients you leave at home. There are still so many unknowns about how this virus develops.

The biggest problem for ambulances at the moment is the workload.

We hit “status three” the other day, for the second time ever, meaning demand outstripped supply to a dangerous level.

Public health officials say the situation was improving, but that feels like more spin. Out on the road it’s getting worse. The system is in meltdown.

We’re going to jobs that are up to eight hours old. Sometimes we’re waking people up in the middle of the night because they’ve gone to bed waiting and just wanted a “check-up” (the respiratory specialist who told anyone with symptoms to call an ambulance at the daily briefing probably had something to do with this).

Sometimes the consequences are worse.

We went to an elderly person who fell in her backyard before dinner and pressed her medi alarm. We didn’t get there until 2am, she was hypothermic laying on the cold grass. We’ve had burn victims waiting two hours. The list goes on.

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When we eventually do turn up, we’re greeted by angry families who are frustrated at the wait times.

The problem is partly to do with the triage system. A Covid patient gets a priority lights-and-sirens response because it’s considered “breathing difficulties”. Everything else has to wait. Because the vast majority of our work now is Covid, that’s using up all our resources. Not to mention the extra time stuck at hospitals, time taken to put on and take off PPE safely and clean the cars after every case. Things are definitely not improving.

One night at the emergency department I was with 13 ambulances stuck with patients onboard waiting for a bed. A police car was there because there were no ambulances available to transport a mental health patient. So we now have police transporting patients too. Definitely not “improving”.

Another night outside the hospital ambulance bay, two men pulled up in a car and approached us, demanding we go pick up their Covid-positive father. They asked why we were standing around doing nothing while their dad was at home short of breath.

They had been waiting more than an hour. We explained we weren’t doing nothing, we had patients in our ambulances and one hour was an average wait.

I wonder how the people at the top saying the system is coping would feel if desperate strangers started harassing them at work.

As usual, it’s the people like us with no voice and no power who have to cop the heat.

The writer is a paramedic in south-west Sydney

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