“I’ve lost family to COVID-19. I’ve lost a colleague. I’ve lost a friend to suicide. I’ve lost my support network. I’ve lost the ability to cope. I’ve lost myself. Yet we, the NHS, are apparently coping? We try and put all of this behind us to help our patients. To help you. We are here for you Scotland, but we really need your help.”
This is the direct testimony sent to Glasgow Live by over 50 NHS workers – from paramedics, technicians, students and ambulance care assistants of the Scottish Ambulance Service.
In an open letter, they write of their experiences working on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, and urge the public to take heed of the rules as people are dying.
Their testimony is harrowing, heartbreaking and deeply worrying.
“Every single day, we transport very sick patients with Covid to hospital, knowing the moment we leave, that this will be the last time they ever see their loved ones,” writes a paramedic contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous.
“We know it, and sometimes they know it. We try and make this final moment matter. We watch as we tear apart loved ones who’ve been together and relied on each other for decades. Each other is all they have.
“We promise them they will not be alone, and that we will look after them like our own. They cry. We cry.”
The authors say they’ve written the letter detailing the “emotional reality” of what they’re facing daily, and to demonstrate that they are “not coping”.
Alongside testimonies on the brutal reality of working on the covid frontline, ambulance staff share concerns about working in small spaces together, PPE running out and dealing with an overwhelming number of calls outs.
They write: “How does this make us feel when we see our First Minister and health chiefs tell our nation we are coping?
“How do we feel when we read Facebook comments telling us COVID-19 is a hoax, and that hospitals are quiet and not overwhelmed due to empty corridors (there is no visiting – corridors are supposed to be empty!).
“We and our hospital-based colleagues may look very calm. After all, this is now our norm. But we are suffering.”
Speaking exclusively to Glasgow Live, a paramedic who contributed to the testimony said they did not want to panic the public with the letter, but instead stress the need to stick to restrictions to combat the virus.
They said: “Our aims aren’t to try and panic anybody either or to lose hope of our fight against Covid. If anything, we want people to know that all of us are doing everything we possibly can and the lengths people are going to in all areas of the NHS are just incredible.
“If people had a true picture of what it’s like – it might allow them to make better informed decisions to protect them and their families.
“I’m a paramedic in one of the busy Glasgow stations working on an A&E ambulance. I’ve worked here for quite a few years now. I love my job. I’m known for being so passionate about it and upbeat. I rarely moan and rarely complain – but we are all on the absolute edge.
“Our days just now are incredibly mixed and unpredictable – which is probably the most concerning aspect of this new Covid variant.
“We’ve gone from seeing on average one to two patients who are Covid positive on a 10-12 hour shift, to 90% of our patients being Covid positive.”
They added that Covid positive patients vary in terms of medical attention, and that there is now a bigger variety in ages now affected, with “very sick people in their 30s, 40s and 50s requiring hospitalisation,” and whole households testing positive for the virus.
They said: “Some days we are coping, albeit very busy, and we wait only 30 mins to an hour outside of the QEUH to hand over patients. Some days the ambulance bays look empty due to quick handover times, as hospital staff genuinely do try their absolute best to keep the flow moving, make beds available, and open up new rooms and wards.
“But more often than not, our local A&Es are badly breaching and we are often queued behind anywhere up to 14 ambulances, waiting hours.”
Karen Leonard, GMB Scotland Organiser, told Glasgow Live ambulance workers felt “consistently let down”.
She added: “Our key workers have heard praise and applause from Ministers and employers but what every frontline worker in the NHS would rather have is every resource possible at their disposal to mitigate the threat of COVID-19.
“The truth is workers in SAS have little to no confidence the powers that be are prioritising their safety. And why should they?
“They were told from the outset of that Scotland was prepared for COVID-19 but from PPE to testing, and now the first wave of the vaccination programme, they have been consistently let down.
“We are closing in on the first anniversary of this pandemic but instead of listening to and supporting these workers it looks like the Scottish Government and SAS management are simply managing the message, until such time the vaccination programme starts to eradicate COVID-19.”
Glasgow Live contacted the Scottish Ambulance Service, Scottish Government and NHSGCC for comment.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Ambulance Service acknowledged the pressure staff are under, but added that there are “no PPE supply issues and all staff continue to have access to appropriate PPE”, and that “the number of cardiac arrests remains stable as do survival rates”.
They said: “Our staff work have been working incredibly hard saving lives and providing care during the pandemic and their safety and wellbeing continues to be our top priority. We are actively increasing staffing and offering additional shifts to bank workers and others.
“Given the situations they face, we understand the recent demands and pressure staff are under and we are doing everything we can to support them through a range of health and wellbeing support measures if and when they require it. All our staff are doing a fantastic job and we are immensely proud of their continuing efforts.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said they are working to “increase capacity and reduce individual workload across the Ambulance Service”.
They added: “We know the national picture covers areas where the pressure is particularly acute and we are in daily contact with boards to help address these, but the most important thing we can all do right now to protect ourselves, others, our communities, and our NHS, is to stay at home as much as possible and follow the FACTS guidance.
“We value the tremendous job our ambulance service staff do in what can be exceptionally challenging circumstances. Like all of our frontline responders, their welfare and mental wellbeing is crucially important.
“We are working to increase capacity and reduce individual workload across the Ambulance Service – investing almost £900 million over the last four years and committing to training an additional 1,000 paramedics.
“The Scottish Government is committed to working with NHS Boards and Health and Social Care Partnerships to provide services to support all staff in these challenging times including a range of wellbeing and psychological support provision.
“In May we launched the National Wellbeing Hub, which has had over 56,000 users to date, and a National Wellbeing Helpline for the health and social care workforce, based in NHS 24, has been available since July.”
The ambulance staff letter was released as NHS Lanarkshire took the decision to temporarily postpone all non-urgent elective procedures and a targeted range of outpatient appointments. A number of clinically urgent and priority procedures will continue.
Judith Park, director of acute services for NHS Lanarkshire, said “The hospitals are full and the numbers of Covid-19 admissions are increasing. As such, there are only 46 beds currently available to new patients.
“We currently have nearly 300 patients being treated for Covid-19 in our hospitals, with additional patients currently waiting on test results. However, we are anticipating this number to double within a week putting our hospitals under severe pressure.
“The decision to cancel any appointment is not one that we take lightly and I apologise for the impact this will have on patients
It comes one week after we reported ambulances carrying 10 people were diverted from the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital to Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Monica Lennon, MSP for Central Scotland and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care told Glasgow Live: “The reality on the frontline is becoming more distant from SNP government rhetoric by the day.
“When paramedics, ambulance care workers, technicians and students are saying they simply can’t cope, it’s time for ministers to live up to their responsibilities.
“It’s becoming clear that our health service is already overwhelmed and its staff who are bearing the brunt of this.
“The Health Secretary must take urgent action to protect staff and patients.”
NHSGCC has been approached for comment.
If you are struggling, you can contact the Samaritans 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 116 123 or by visiting their website.