Home   News   Article

12-hour shift on the front line with Inverness’s ambulance service

By Annabelle Gauntlett

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Heather Mackintosh, paramedic and Annabelle Gauntlett, reporter.
Heather Mackintosh, paramedic and Annabelle Gauntlett, reporter.

I was sitting in a cold ambulance at the break of dawn when the flashing blue sirens sent an adrenaline rush through my body. Reality sunk in as I had started my gruelling 12-hour shift alongside Inverness’s ambulance service.

Heather showing Annabelle the equipment in the ambulance.
Heather showing Annabelle the equipment in the ambulance.

One by one we entered the man’s house. I immediately saw his daughter in floods of tears and full of trepidation. “It’s all going to be okay,” I told her. As I walked through the hallway, I was full of dread as my mind began to run wild wondering what horrific scene I was about to witness.

An elderly man unresponsive, lying in bed in a dark room. “Is he alive?” was my first thought. The man’s dog was nervously shaking near him.

“Can you hear me? Speak to me,” Heather said loudly as she rolled him onto his front. No response. Amber immediately helped Heather check the man’s vitals as he had a raging temperature.

Annabelle shadowed Heather on a 12-hour shift.
Annabelle shadowed Heather on a 12-hour shift.

Suspected sepsis from an untreated chest infection.

The pair struggled as they lifted the man onto a chair to get him into the ambulance immediately so he could receive an intravenous dose of antibiotics to bring his temperature down.

Amber jumped in the driving seat while Heather and I strapped ourselves into the back seats. As I looked on at the man in critical condition I began to comprehend the demanding realities of this job. Someone’s life was in their hands.

The flashing blue lights began. While I was crippled with tension, Amber and Heather’s primary concern was that this man made it to hospital in time, which felt unlikely with the dire waiting times to get into the hospital.

Heather Mackintosh, paramedic, Patrick Mayne, student Ttechnician, Owen Wilkie and Ryan Maclean, paramedics.
Heather Mackintosh, paramedic, Patrick Mayne, student Ttechnician, Owen Wilkie and Ryan Maclean, paramedics.

Thankfully there was a team of doctors and nurses waiting at the doors of A&E. Heather began to rapidly explain the scenario to the team as the man was immediately treated.

After we returned to the ambulance, Heather cleaned blood off the floor ready for the next job. They had saved a man’s life before most of us turned off our morning alarm.

I learned that the ambulance service deals with at least one septic case a day and they suspect that it is often due to the sheer volume of people living in Inverness now, putting all health sectors under pressure, including GP surgeries. Unfortunately, people often struggle to get appointments or don’t bother trying.

Heather said: “The gentleman we saw was quite unwell, and that may be a progressive state from not being able to see his GP.

“We do see a lot of people that say they tried to get a doctor's appointment, but couldn’t be seen for a fortnight, which is quite a common theme.”

Technician, Amber Connor and paramedic, Heather Mackintosh.
Technician, Amber Connor and paramedic, Heather Mackintosh.

Amber added: “There is a lot of pressure when people can’t get GP appointments, and I’m not saying it is the GP’s fault, but people don’t want to wait for appointments, or when they're 14th in the queue just to get through and book an appointment.”

After this eye-opening incident, I lost all naivety of what I once expected from the service.

It wasn’t long before I heard a loud alarm screeching through the team's walkie talkies. “Let’s go,” Amber said.

I jumped up to get back into the ambulance. The sirens were on and the blue lights began; here we go again.

We were called to a shop, where a woman had experienced an episode of racing heart palpitations, a tight jaw and sore chest.

Annabelle in the ambulance with Heather.
Annabelle in the ambulance with Heather.

Dozens of people watched as we walked through the shop.

I followed Heather as we walked into the staff room to find a woman lying on a sofa clenching her chest and jaw.

Both Heather and Amber conducted a range of tests, and due to the woman experiencing cardiac problems the pair felt it was only appropriate to take her to the hospital to undergo further testing. After joining the queue of ambulances outside A&E we waited with her for almost an hour before a bed became available - I was soon to learn that this waiting time is considered short.

Our final major alert of the day was to assist a woman with a suspected blood clot.

We rushed to the surgery to find a fragile woman sitting in the doctor's chair with an oxygen mask.

Reporter, Annabelle Gauntlett in an ambulance.
Reporter, Annabelle Gauntlett in an ambulance.

Amber checked the woman’s vitals and then connected her to an oxygen tank in the ambulance. The woman was responsive, but incredibly unwell and weak.

Once we arrived at the hospital, I experienced first-hand the extreme wait times ambulance crews are faced with. I sat talking to the patient in the back of the ambulance for three hours - a critical part of the job is stopping patients from becoming agitated or distressed during these delays. I learned all about her pets, family and upcoming staycation.

A queue of ambulances outside Raigmore.
A queue of ambulances outside Raigmore.

While the woman was eager to head home due to waiting in the ambulance hours on end, she was advised to stay in order to receive the treatment she needed in case there was a blood clot.

As we began to approach the end of our 12-hour shift, another ambulance team arrived and kept waiting with the lady. We were still behind two other ambulances, who were before us in the queue to get in.

When talking about the wait times at the hospital, Heather said: “The hospital staff are amazing, they come out to the ambulance and try to alleviate any symptoms that the patient has, but I personally feel that the hospital is too small and there aren’t enough staff which impacts the staff currently helping to alleviate the problems.”

Amber added: “Unfortunately, it is just one of those things at the moment where there are hospital wait times and I hope that will change in the future.

“I think that Raigmore needs to be bigger for the size of Inverness now as it doesn’t have the capacity to hold the amount of people that are living in Inverness because it is an ever-growing city and the fastest growing city.”

Every day a total of three ambulances are dispatched from the Inverness ambulance station to help save the lives of people across the city. However, at night the number of vehicles reduces to two, in addition to the emergency mental health vehicle.

While the service, consisting of paramedics, technicians, care assistants and many more, are consumed with life threatening patient care everyday, the hardest part of their jobs is waiting times.

The Inverness ambulance service.
The Inverness ambulance service.

Heather said: “Everyday is different, it’s a very diverse job so the difficulties change all the time, but today the hardest part of the job was sitting outside of the hospital. It is very frustrating.

“Helping people get into hospital and helping the next patient is easy, but the hardest part is waiting.”

NHS Highland were invited to comment.

If you need emergency help by the ambulance service in Inverness, call 999.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More