University of Portsmouth student describes life as a St John Ambulance volunteer on the Covid frontline

A SELFLESS student from the city’s university has volunteered to work thousands of hours on the ambulance service frontline helping to save Covid patients during the peak of the pandemic.

By Neil Fatkin
Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 2:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 2:48 pm

For three days a week during the Covid crisis, second year photography student Amy Hughes swapped her camera for the back of an ambulance as part of the St John Ambulance (SJA) emergency response crew.

With the NHS struggling to cope during the pandemic the first aid charity was asked to step in to provide an additional front-line response.

After completing her Emergency Ambulance Crew qualification, Amy has already dedicated more than 650 life-saving hours since the start of the year responding to patients in need.

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Amy Hughes, 20, has been volunteering as an Emergency Ambulance Crew member during the second Covid wave.

Amy, 20, said: ‘My crew started off responding at the Nightingale Hospital in London before later covering responses in Guildford, Portsmouth and more recently the Isle of Wight.

‘During the peak of the pandemic it got really tiring doing 12-hour shifts without a break. But you knew you were making a difference so you just kept going.’

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Without the support of volunteer organisations such as SJA Amy feels the NHS would have reached breaking point.

Student Amy Hughes, 20, getting ready for a volunteer shift during the Covid pandemic.

She added: ‘During the January peak, ambulances could often be queuing for up to five hours waiting for patient beds. The news showed the NHS was struggling but I don’t think people realised it was almost failing and without the help of SJA the ambulance service would have struggled to cope.’

It was only weeks after the peak that the full impact of being on the Covid frontline really began to take its toll.

Amy said: ‘We all saw some terrible things and as a crew it was important we supported and offloaded our thoughts on each other. I thought I had coped quite well and it was only recently that it really hit me about what it had been like on the front-line.

‘For someone my age I saw quite a lot of traumatic things.’

University of Portsmouth student Amy Hughes carrying out Emergency Department duties during the first Covid wave.

As unit manager of the university’s SJA branch the caring student had already spent the first wave volunteering in hospital emergency departments of London’s Nightingale Hospital and St Peter’s Hospital Chertsey where she helped with the observation, care and transportation of patients.

Amy said: ‘I ended up seeing things from both perspectives - both the crowded corridors of the hospitals and the ambulances which brought the patients in.’

It’s a perspective which highlighted the importance of considering others and adhering to Covid regulations.

She added: ‘During the time I was working I didn’t return home as I was worried about giving Covid to a family member. As we come out of lockdown it’s really important to continue to follow Covid guidelines as the rules are there for a reason,

‘I’ve already had both my vaccines and I would encourage other people to do the same.’

On completion of her photography course she now plans on studying a second degree in paramedic science.

University volunteering and community engagement officer Rachel Stone said: ‘Amy is an excellent ambassador for the university. The real impact though has been with St John Ambulance service, where Amy has been supporting the work they carry out during a time when they have been needed more than ever.

‘Her dedication to the role has gone above and beyond.’

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