Cutting Edge – ‘The Ambulance 8 Minutes to Distaster’

The Ambulance: 8 Minutes to Disaster
Cutting Edge on Channel 4

This week Cutting Edge charts a month in the life of ambulance 212 and its crews as they attempt to comply with Government targets to reach 75% of life threatening calls within eight minutes. But how much of their work actually involves saving lives? And how much is tea and sympathy? This insightful documentary provides a fascinating view of modern British society and daily lives of the Paramedics on the front line of the NHS.

Cameras fixed in the ambulance, and shoulder cams for the crew, capture these committed men and women coping with everything from binge drinking and suicide attempts to repeat callers who just want a chat and a cup of tea.

Working 10 to 12 hour shifts, and averaging four shifts in eight days, the Ambulance Service of Reading Central deals with upwards of 300 calls a day. They never know entirely what situation they will face on their arrival – childbirth, domestic incidents, life-threatening situations – and making the right decision under extreme pressure is vital. However, almost half their calls are from elderly patients and, as paramedic Iain Darby points out, “Only about 30% is emergency stuff. The rest is social work”.

He and partner Stella have been working together for four years. Much of their time is taken up with ‘frequent callers’ who regularly contact them with non-emergencies, though they are obliged to attend. “It’s frustrating that ambulances keep going to the same people day after day when they know there’s nothing wrong with them,” says Mark Ainsworth, Head of Operations.

The calls increase dramatically at weekends, many are alcohol related. “Alcohol is a problem in every country…but it’s out of control here,” comments another paramedic Paul. “I find it amazing every weekend…we go to people who have beaten each other up…it’s a bit weird when you go to a job and you don’t have someone beating someone else up. That’s really sad isn’t it?”

As Paul and his partner attend yet another alcohol/drug related incident their manner is wholly professional, yet he is clearly frustrated. “It’s amazing how people cannot look after themselves and rely on the ambulance service to do it for them. Little old ladies will sit at home for hours and hours because they don’t want to bother us.”

But when they attend the scene of a five-year-old boy who has been seriously wounded in a car accident, and fight to keep him alive on route to the hospital, the crucial nature of their role and true extent of their skill is apparent. “This is what the ambulance is for,” says Paul before checking the radio to see what the next job has in store for them.

Assistant Director George Waldrum talks about what the film is about

A new series of Cutting Edge Films starts 9pm Thursday 11th September on Channel 4. The Ambulance: 8 Minutes to Disaster airs at 9pm on Thursday 18th September.

For further information please contact Richard Hill at Holler: / 0207 209 2691

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