‘It gives a distorted and wrong impression of ambulance technicians...’

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EARLIER this week the Daily Mail ran a front-page article suggesting ambulances were being sent out with ‘technicians’ who had less skills than regular ambulance crews.

Here Graeme Bell, who works as a technician for South Central Ambulance Service, explains why the story was not fair.

‘I could probably count the readers of The i on one hand who would also consider themselves to be regular consumers of the Daily Mail.

I am certainly not. And whilst many people reading this article will, like me, be all too aware of the scepticism with which to treat many of the sensationalist headlines in that other paper, the article published on the front of Monday’s edition – ‘Cut price ambulance crews sent on 999 calls’ – was not one that I could simply shrug off as the usual nonsense.

It gives such a distorted and wrong representation of those who are saving lives on ambulances across the country.

Most regrettably, it leaves the general public with a completely unwarranted fear about the qualifications and skills of the men and women in green who turn up at any time of day or night when you dial 999.

‘I am one of the ‘technicians’ referred to in the article; the Mail even seems to undermine the very role by putting it in quotation marks.

And I’m very proud to say that I have been a technician for 22 years in the NHS, working initially for Berkshire Ambulance Service and, since 2006, for South Central Ambulance Service. Having worked as a technician since the 1990s – and there were plenty others in service when I joined – I can certainly refute the first inaccurate statement in the Mail’s article; that technicians have only been used by the country’s ambulance services since the early 2000s.

The ‘lack of training’ for technicians referred to is also something I can easily correct. My training to become a technician involved an eight-week residential clinical training course, followed by a three-week driver training course. I then returned to active duty on the road as a trainee technician and worked for the following 12 months under a clinical mentor.

As a qualified technician, I have had to undertake yearly updates and regular assessments – just like my paramedic colleagues – with face-to-face training to maintain my clinical practice qualifications.

I, like most technicians, also attend extra study days and conferences to enhance my clinical skills. The Daily Mail would have you believe that only paramedics can administer medicines to patients, set up ECG heart monitors, make diagnoses and insert airways.

As a technician, I am trained to do this too. Paramedics qualifying for active duty today do indeed arrive with a three-year university degree course behind them; this is, however, only a requirement introduced in the last few years. I work with lots of highly professional, skilled and experienced paramedics who haven’t followed this route. And for all those technicians who want to develop their clinical practice further and become paramedics, there is no requirement for us to complete the three-year university course.

Due to our already high level of clinical skills and experience, a technician can qualify to become a paramedic in one year. Late last night I was working in High Wycombe at an incident.

A member of the public came up to me and his first words were, ‘I was reading in the paper about these technicians – isn’t it terrible that these people are sent to 999 calls and can’t do anything’. He had obviously failed to see the Technician epaulette I proudly wear on my uniform; a myopic vision of what is really going on that a certain newspaper obviously shares with its readership.

This article first appeared in our sister paper The i here.