My Experiences of Living with Racism All Around Us

By Islam Faqir

21/10/2020

 

From my first ever recollection of experiencing racism, I feel at times, talking to people that they just don’t get it, mainly around how it feels, the thoughts that pass through your mind, the effect it has on you and your family, the resulting apprehensiveness and the impact on your social interactions. Whilst speaking to friends and colleagues, they offer sympathy and empathy, but I ask, do they really know how it makes someone feel, and the cautious behaviour it results in?

I thought I would write this to give context and feelings to my experiences which I have titled,

Have you ever experienced and felt…

My very first recollection centres around playing in the school playground and being called a paki, at that point being a juvenile and not really understanding what the slur means, being at a school that was 96% white… I would just put my head down and carry on playing, but feeling like I was different as it was pointed out my skin colour was different. Of course, going home, I never shared these experience’s because I just didn’t, I can’t really give a reason…

I think back and I can remember being stood in a queue with my dad and a white individual hit my dad in the legs with a trolley and said, "Get of out the way paki." I turned around and swore at the individual, I was in my early teens but I felt protective of my dad. My dad turned to me and said, "Son ignore him, this is something I have experienced many times." I was really angry and asked the individual, who seemed to be a bit older than me, to say it again and I would, well I think you get the picture… My dad again calmed me down and did not rise to it. First, I thought ‘wow my dad has the resilience and calmness to just be a bigger person.’ I now think my dad’s generation just accepted it and that was because to them that behaviour was normal.

As I grew and joined the working world, at times work colleagues would ask if I wanted to go out socially and I would say yes. However, I found after queuing up with my colleagues, I would be pulled out of the queue by the doorman and searched. When my colleagues asked, "Why are you picking on him?", the reply would be because I was black and looked like most drug dealers; ‘Black’. I would eventually get into the venue and try to enjoy myself, but afterwards it would affect me because I would be embarrassed to go out in case this happened again. After joining the ambulance service, this was even more so, I would feel different, I would worry what people may think and how it looks!

BREXIT and how things changed. Not so long after the vote whilst leaving a supermarket, I was walking passed an individual who just blurted out, "You’re all out now.", puzzled I said, "What do you mean?", the reply was or how I translated it, as a result of Brexit I or all people who were not white could return back to where they came from. I did say "Well, where is that?", the reply was "Where you were born." I replied "That would be here then…", the man looked puzzled!

The holiday season is something we all look forward to. There were occasions where I went away with work colleagues, and it would be standard that I would be picked out of the boarding line for a plane, and asked questions. My work mates would laugh and take the mick, which I would laugh along with. However, these experiences would leave me embarrassed and dreading the journey home, as it would often be a repeat.

I had the same experiences catching a flight to the USA with family and we got a lot of looks from fellow passengers. At times I would say "Well they are only doing their job.", but as my partner would point out to the people asking the questions "Why are you only picking on him?". Well we know why, I do not have white skin and I have a Muslim name. I do believe in keeping everyone safe, however, this treatment becomes tiring and I feel weathered by it, as it’s the same over and over, and over.

Other things that leave you demoralised are: 
Sharing with a colleague your interest in a job role, and hearing them tell you the name of the person they already know will get the job. 
Not having people that look like you that you can aspire to be.
Being racially abused at work whilst you are trying to help the person that called for your help, but doesn’t want you to put your black hands anywhere near them.
You go home feeling demoralised and asking yourself where you fit in society and why you are doing the job you are doing.

Being pulled over by the police because you are driving a nice car, being searched before getting on a train whilst on the way to a conference, because they say you looked suspicious (must have meant the case I had with me). I am always polite, as I think ‘they are doing their job’ but it does rile me when they ask what I do and when I say paramedic their tone and behaviours change to, let’s say, a little more professional.

Being described as a terrorist, accused of actions based on what I can only call inhuman ideology, becomes tiresome, hurtful, unwanted and undervalued, being compared with animals, who are only similarity to me is the colour of their skin.

Living with racism is something most people of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds face every day, it is all around us. It does not have to be just name calling, it is behaviours, actions, assumption, jokes. Mostly, people do not realise the impact it has on our thoughts, emotions and mental health. The examples above are only a few of many I could write about, these were just to give substance in how my experiences have affected me.

Islam Faqir
Chair, College of Paramedics Diversity Steering Group


The HCPC and Paramedic Self Referral

Learning From the Past for a Better Future

24/09/2020

The year is 2002 and paramedics have not long been registered with the HCPC. Having not been qualified long yourself there are certain colleagues you look up to, paramedics that you want to be like one day. One particular paramedic is Chris. Chris is tall, striking looking and an exceptional paramedic. Chris always seems to be able to deal with any situation the two of you had been in, whether that was cannulating a shutdown trauma patient trapped upside down in their car in the rain, or compassion for an elderly lonely patient, or even looking after you and your patient in the middle of a pub brawl. Always with a calmness and confidence that you and many others aspired towards.  

Like anyone who works in an Ambulance Service, you know all too well the regular patients that you encounter time and time again. In 2002 there is one particularly longstanding, regular caller, a man called Brian. Brian is in his 40s and calls 999 at best, daily, and at worst a lot more often. Brian lives alone in a state of chaos and neglect, he is alcohol dependant and does not work. He can often be verbally aggressive and sometimes inappropriate, particularly towards women. In fact, there is a flag on his property that double female crews should not attend. Brian always calls 999 complaining of chest pain but will very rarely travel to hospital, usually refusing to go anywhere. Brian has Angina and a GTN spray as he has had previous MIs. Colleagues never want to go to Brian as he is challenging to know what to do with and you know that at some point he will die and one of you will be the last person to see him alive. 

One day, it is Chris that gets the call to respond to Brian’s address. Brian is particularly aggressive, shouting and threatening violence, the police have already been called by a worried dispatcher due to his demeanour over the phone. Chris and the police try for some time to calm Brian down and understand why he had called 999, but eventually gave up as he wouldn’t let them anywhere near him, and was telling them in no uncertain terms, to leave his property. So, Chris, crew mate and police leave Brian’s house.   

Brian is found dead by a neighbour the next day. 

The Ambulance Service does not investigate but refers Chris straight to the HCPC. Chris is kept busy gathering evidence to show just how often Brian called 999, how he always rang with chest pain and how often he was abusive towards ambulance colleagues. Chris collects evidence and testimonies to demonstrate outstanding clinical expertise and excellent character. Chris has a huge blue folder with all the comprehensive statements and official documents ordered perfectly for ease of reference. Little did you know at the time that this was not at all what the HCPC wanted. But you knew no better. Management knew no better. Nobody around Chris knew any better.  

Several months went by, the hearing came. Chris got struck off the register.               

How could this happen to someone like Chris? A solid paramedic that anyone would want at their side at a bad job, and someone you would want to turn up if your family was in need. You just can’t understand it. Everyone is shocked. The news spreads at a speed usually reserved only for the juiciest of gossip! And so does the fear, the fear that this could happen to any of you, at any moment. 

The fear had consequences. After a while nobody knew what was fact and what was fiction in Chris’s story. Stories were told constantly, and myths were created surrounding the HCPC - the HCPC is punitive, they’re out to get you. It is better to self-refer, because it will look better on you rather than coming from the Ambulance Service. These stories becoming ingrained in ambulance and paramedic culture. The Ambulance Services increasingly used the HCPC instead of their own investigative process. They would wait to see what the HCPC said before they decided what to do. There is no doubt that this happened across many of the Ambulance Services at the time, there were more than 30 back then.  And so, the scene was set for the following years… 




The aim of this piece is to raise awareness and understanding about a hugely unnecessary self-referral rate, how that came to be and how we can reduce it by thinking and behaving differently. The College of Paramedics is working with the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, the national Directors of HR and Trades Union organisations to ensure a full awareness of the current situation regarding paramedic self-referral rates and to drive changes that will support and benefit individuals and the paramedic profession in the future. 
 
COLLEGE OF PARAMEDICS MEMBERS SHOULD CONTACT THE LEGAL HELPLINE IF YOU BELIEVE THERE IS A NEED TO SELF-REFER TO THE HCPC, INCLUDING FOLLOWING A REQUEST TO DO SO BY YOUR EMPLOYER, TO ESTABLISH WHETHER YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES WARRANT SELF-REFERRAL.  
 
For more information on Fitness to Practice self-referral and legal representation click here  
 

Author:
Liz Harris FCPara
Head of Professional Standards, College of Paramedics

Being a Muslim Paramedic during the COVID19 Pandemic - Beards, Ramadan and Eid

By Shumel Rahman MCPara, North East Ambulance Service

24/07/2020

 

At the beginning of the pandemic I had a big decision to make! Ambulance front line staff were asked to shave off their facial hair, for the FFP3 face masks to fit. I had a religious dispensation; however, I had felt a huge sense of responsibility to protect and safeguard people. I also wanted to do the right thing when it came to my faith. 

After a lot of thought and much deliberation I decided to shave my beard off, to allow the respiratory equipment to fit properly.

This is not a step I took lightly; my beard is not just part of my identity, it is not there just to look cool, even though it does, but it is part of my religion. I have had a beard for well over a decade and I cannot remember the last time I shaved. I consulted many Islamic scholars and teachers, locally and nationally, sought advice from fellow Muslim healthcare professionals and very helpfully from the BIMA British Islamic Medical Association. This was not a simple yes or no answer, however these are exceptional circumstances, totally unprecedented and a unique situation.

I shaved off my beard to protect my patients, colleagues and my family. One of the greatest acts is to save someone’s life. This simple act may help do that.

My faith is something very personal to me and it is not something I often talk about at work unless someone asks me about it. Being a Muslim is an integral part of my life and identity. My faith is like a shield that protects me, it gives me focus and balance, gives me a code to live my life by, a belief system, provides me with important values such as respect, it gives me peace, not just a belief in God.

For a Muslim, Ramadan is a very special time, a time to treasure and looked forward to, a time to reconnect to Allah, a time to focus on my faith, a time for spirituality, a time to spend in the Mosque, a time to spend with family, a time for charity and giving, a time to reflect on what we have got rather than what we have not, a time to think about those less fortunate than ourselves, a time to think about all those who are suffering around the world or who are in despair. It is a time for discipline and centering yourself. A time for family, for friends, for community and for coming together. Oh, it is about fasting too, but the other stuff is just as important if not more so.

What many people misunderstand, is that Muslims fast not out of obligation, but because they want to. I think many people who are not Muslim do not quite understand Ramadan, often people see fasting and Ramadan as a chore or period to get out the way or we cannot be bothered with. For Muslims it is an incredibly special time, that we actually look forward to, a very important time for us, that we love.

This year was exceptional; never have I experienced a Ramadan where we were unable to go to the Mosque, to enjoy Iftar breaking the fast together, spending time with our family or friends. This Ramadan was vastly different, we could not do the things we would normally do. We still had a rewarding and spiritual Ramadan staying at home. This year has been strange, it was completely different. It felt like Ramadan, but then at the same time it did not, if that makes sense.

I was working on Eid, so missed out on some of the celebrations. Normally I would go to Eid prayers, we have outdoor Eid prayer in a local park in Newcastle. Unfortunately, we were still in lock down on Eid, so that got cancelled and I ended up doing my prayers in the back garden. I live with my family, so we managed to celebrate the occasion and ending up having a virtual Eid online with the rest of the family all over the country. I was really hoping we would be out of lock down but unfortunately that was not to be.

I am very pleased to say that just before Eid, the Trust provided me with a respirator hood, that goes over my head and is able to work with facial hair. It is similar to what you see in the movies, like ET. Having the hood allowed me to start growing back my beard just in time for Eid, you could call it a little Eid Ramadan gift.

It has been an extraordinary year for everyone, particularly in the realms of equality & diversity. We have seen the impact of COVID19 on black, asian and minority ethnic communities and healthcare professionals, disproportionately high COVID-19 death rate among BAME people and the effect on BAME colleagues is very scary and concerning. We’ve also seen the brutal killing of George Floyd and the mass mobilisation of the Black Lives Matter movement, globally demanding justice for George Floyd and eradication of institutional and systemic racism, and the conditions which have given rise to racism, which is potentially interlinked with the disproportionate number of BAME COVID19 deaths.

It has been a very strange year so far, Eid Mubarak & stay safe.

Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination in the Paramedic Workplace

By Duncan Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Management, Plymouth University 

07/07/2020

 
 

Darkness and Isolation

By Izzy Faqir MCPara, Clinical Pathways Manager, Yorkshire Ambulance Service 

08/06/2020

 

I am an NHS Paramedic and a father to 5 children.  I had recently been successful in being appointed as a Clinical Manager for Pathways and started in early February 2020, after trying for a number of years to progress. I identify as disabled, due to an organ transplant, and come from a BME background and I have faced many challenges in my career as a result of both (maybe my next blog will be about that). When I started my new role, I felt like I had a new direction and purpose and was, after a long time, really happy with my life at home and work. 

It was at this time that I started to hear, on the news, how in East Asia a new illness was taking lives and having an impact on so many people. I remember thinking we were all so lucky to be so far away, and never for a moment thought it would bring its devastation so close, and affect my world, as much as it has. Gradually though, I began to see the destruction this disease was having on people, like a darkness spreading from East to West, from North to South. I started to think, would it reach these shores, surely not? I had seen SARS and MERS, but this seemed different. This disease seemed to hold no mercy, particularly for those with health issues.

In March, I was asked to help with the increasing workload, which involved working within 111, and I happily agreed, after all, these were unprecedented times. The dark cloud had reached our shores. As I assisted people; taking their histories and listening to their stories, fears started to rise in the back of my mind, about the fact I am immunosuppressed. I also had rising fear for others around me. One caller, had travelled, with symptoms, from Italy to the UK, by train! All those contacts! I visualised again the darkness spreading and engulfing the world.

Pressure for the ambulance trust to respond effectively to the pandemic increased, of course, and I was told I would have to return to my substantive role in the Emergency Operational Centre. I was becoming really anxious now; going back into an environment with 60-70 people, working within the same room, left me feeling vulnerable and fearful for my own health, and the possible implications that it could have on me and my family. 

Thankfully though, government guidance and discussions with managers confirmed that, as I was in a high-risk group for severe disease if infected, I should be shielded and isolate. 

Well at least I could be safe; however, isolation was just that, I am living in one room in my house, isolated from even my wife and children. I of course wanted to help, I wanted to do something as part of the NHS family of 20 years, I wanted to do my bit. Unfortunately, due to some issues around IT this became a problem and not possible. It should never be underestimated how work brings normality, and as time went on, life without family and work became less and less normal. Time leaves you to think, and while thoughts can leave you happy, more often can be quite depressive as its only you that can snap you out of it.

I certainly did not realise the effect of being on my own; wanting just a cuddle from the kids but this was not allowed, having to watch them play in the garden and not being able to do be with them. All the things we take for granted now were not possible and this weighs quite heavy on your mind, I think back a few months ago and now it seems the world has tipped itself upside down. 

I was also reminded of when I was having dialysis at home and how I felt quite alone then, as I do now. The thoughts and the emotions came back to me. Some days were better than others, but nothing can really prepare you for the cloud that hangs over you. On one hand I was safe, on the other I longed for normality.

I had some contact from work colleagues and those who I can call my friends, such as Gary, Kirsty and Imogen and it was whilst speaking to Imogen, when I said I am grateful that I am safe but this is heavy going, she replied that, in most instances, isolation was deemed a punishment. This allowed me to accept it was understandable that I was finding my situation so difficult, but I also felt guilt. I felt guilt as I was safe, yet my friends were out there and there were colleagues that had passed away. I felt quite upset hearing of these deaths, all deaths of course, but these were people I knew well, that had been taken far, far too soon. Why? For carrying out their duty, for doing what we all set out to do when joining any NHS trust, to help others. My thoughts and prayers go to each and every person who has lost someone to this dark cloud. 

So how to I cope? I think a lot about how fortunate I am in this. I have support in my family and friends, but what about those who do not have that. No school, no face-to-face contact with family or friends, no workplace, no shopping, no clubs and societies. I am paying this price, I am isolated, but I am not fully alone.

I also try to keep myself occupied, catching up on reading, passing the time with boxsets. I started by watching lots of the news to keep up with what’s going on in the world, but now I try to avoid this, for several reasons; it seems to consume you, and as for watching politicians giving advice across the world, in most instances it’s sensible advice, but in others…, well I will just leave that out there…….

I also hold onto the thought that, as with any darkness, there will always be light at the end of this. I know we can do this, but we need to look after each other and care for our mental health. This does not stop us feeling darkness at times, after all we are all human, but we can stand together. My message is to be kind to each other, to the Ambulance family; STAY SAFE.   

 

Covid-19 shines a spotlight on inequalities

By Gemma Howlett MCPara, Senior Lecturer in Paramedic Science at the University of Gloucestershire

4/06/2020

We have lost more people than I am able to comprehend and there is a sadness that hangs over me whenever I think about it, as I am sure it does many of you. We have lost colleagues on the frontline, and our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues. Stand down and rest in peace. I fear by the time this blog is released we will have lost more colleagues in green. Such a devastating realisation and something that no one should even have to consider when they sign up for the role. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. Thank you also to our colleagues across the NHS where we have again lost people who were trying to help us all. It is a sad time in our history and one death would have been too many, so the true scale of the loss is devastating. 

Amongst the sadness of this crisis, it is true that we have seen some amazing acts of kindness. Major Tom is just one instance of people doing everything they can to help others. We have seen people setting up community support groups, we have seen people donating generously with time, resources and produce to foodbanks. We have seen the beginning of brilliant initiatives like clap for carers, various community initiatives to support vulnerable neighbours and widespread donating such as food or hotel spaces for NHS staff. Our NHS, postal workers, delivery drivers, refuse collectors, teachers are all continuing to work and keeping the country going during this pandemic. There is lots to make us smile in these horribly sad and distressing times. But the sadness is overwhelming, this crisis has highlighted inequalities like nothing else has done for many years. 

The thing that I find simply inescapable and truly horrifying is the startling inequality that the virus has shone a spotlight on. The longer this crisis goes on the clearer it becomes that with what, and where, you started this crisis, will have a huge effect on how well, and indeed if, you come out of it the other side. This stark social and economic divide, and sections of society having such poorer health outcomes than others is not a society we should accept. Inequality is allowing the virus to sweep through these communities in far higher numbers than anywhere else. There is also a shocking difference in the number of deaths in BAME communities, which is startlingly high, both in the figures for NHS deaths and the wider community. As the news breaks of another death, you see another black, Asian or minority ethnic face. Nurses, doctors care workers, no area of the NHS appears to be unaffected. And then you see the news stories that feature others that have died, those not in the NHS or on the frontline and again the visual is clear yet more people from BAME communities, making up a startling amount of the numbers. The first ten doctors to have died of Covid-19, and two thirds of the first 100 health and social care workers, were from ethnic minorities. That translates to 64% of the deaths being BAME staff members, which is significantly disproportionate as only 20% of NHS are from ethnic minority backgrounds (Kings Fund, 2020).

I urge you all to open your eyes to this, to see these stark problems that exist both within our beloved NHS, but also society as a whole. There is a brilliant Guardian article that I urge you all to read that really highlights this issue. It is called “Coronavirus exposes how riddled Britain is with racial inequality”. The Guardian project that looks to stop and remember each of the health and care worker deaths, a look through the photos a startling reminder of the inequity that we are encountering. The amazing video called “You clap for me now”, urging people to not forget that lots of BAME community and NHS staff put their lives on the line too to help us through this crisis. Enlighten yourselves about these issues, seek to understand what is at play. Ignoring it and believing that everything is okay and equal for everybody is not an option anymore. Help change this path, help ensure that this inequality can no longer exist or thrive, do not let those in power let this matter disappear into the archives of history, but pressure on them to make meaningful change.

This is a systemic problem that is complicated and multi-faceted undoubtedly. But each and every one of us can start to open our eyes and start to accept that this is all our problem. “It may be hard for white people to accept that we are part of the problem. Almost all of the us as individuals will say we are not – It’s other white people, but in reality, we are all part of the problem and we should all be part of the solution” This, from the Kings Fund, reflects what I have written in my articles on diversity in Insight, and I’m sure to write again in further blogs. But the standard you walk past and ignore is the standard that you accept. We must all no longer just walk past. This applies to all inequality and discrimination, we can all be part of the solution, part of the change for the better. 

Stay safe and be kind to yourself and others, and #bethechange

Also read, in the June 2020 issue of Paramedic INSIGHT, Coronavirus, a health inequalities pandemic by Gemma Howlett and Imogen Carter.

 

HCPC Hearing: A member’s perspective 2019

A member of the College of Paramedics shares their experience of receiving a letter from the HCPC.

13/06/2019

Earlier this year I was informed of allegations against me made by a former employer. The relationship had broken down between us so no local resolution could be made. The allegations were forwarded to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

I was braced for the first letter to land on my doorstep to inform me that the HCPC had received allegations and they were now going to test the evidence to decide if a fitness to practise hearing was indeed needed. The letter stated at this time I could continue to practise unrestricted. I informed my current employer as advised in the letter. 

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened seven days later.

A second letter landed in the morning and I did not read this until the evening after I returned home. It stated that, on the basis of the seriousness of the allegations, the HCPC had seen fit to request an interim suspension order. 

I was devastated! How would I work? How would I feed my family? My reputation of 20 years would be tarnished for ever. I would be humiliated and the source of ridicule.

I contacted the College of Paramedics, of which I am a full member and have been for several years. I was not prepared for the next few minutes, hours or days.

As soon as I contacted the College, I was given names of responsible people who would support me through the process and recommended to phone the legal helpline.

I dialled and left a message. Three hours passed and I called again and got through to the legal team.

They listened for half an hour and advised me of the next step. They would have to speak to the College before confirming they could act on my behalf.

Hearing my concern, they referred me to The Ambulance Service Charity (TASC). 

No sooner had I hung up from the Legal helpline I had a call from an Advisor at TASC who turned out to be a godsend. She reassured me that they would step in and help me with whatever they could, financially and emotionally. My grief turned to shock at the kindness of a charity I had never heard of before, but they were to be there to support me and my family.

A day later I was informed that the College would provide me with legal assistance. 

I did ask myself just how they would manage this as I had only six days, including the weekend, before I had to appear before a HCPC hearing.

The phone calls and emails were coming quick and fast and involved evidence gathering and the background information needed, not to mention a CV, CPD and testimonials.

I was informed on the Monday, with 48 hours to go that the College were not only providing me with a solicitor, but also with a barrister to defend my case.

On the day of the hearing I met the team in a small room at the HCPC Tribunal Service in London and we poured over every angle of the case. They asked points that I would never have thought relevant or necessary with the result when I went to the hearing that afternoon that I felt protected, represented and heard. I said nothing but to confirm my name.

Everything that needed to be said was said by the QC representing me. The result was no interim suspension nor any restrictions in practice. The relief brings me to tears even now.

You would never go into a situation without your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) be it helmet, hi-vis, ballistic protection or even gloves. If you are practicing in our field and you do not have the protection of OUR College, you are operating without some of the best PPE.

I thank the College of Paramedics for their swift action through which I was provided with a fantastic legal team who protected me and my family when we needed it most. 

Please join our College and strengthen it as the main voice for our profession, so that when and if you ever need them, it will continue to be the strongest support available for both defence and advancement.

Author:
Name and position withheld for purposes of anonymity

Factors affecting the retention of paramedics within the Ambulance Services

Liz Harris FCPara, Head of Professional Standards for the College of Paramedics writes a short blog based on the presentation she delivered at the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, Ambulance Leadership Forum in March 2019 detailing the findings of a study on ambulance service retention carried out in 2016.

21/05/2019

The methodology for the study included a Literature Search, a review of several national publications and a selection of Human Resources Management texts. Specific data from four sources of secondary data was also used, including the College of Paramedics Recruitment and Retention survey conducted in 2015 (unpublished). This survey had 977 responses of which 238 were from individuals who had left an Ambulance Service in the preceding 24 months. 

Four key themes emerged that could potentially impact on an individual’s intention to leave their employment: 

CAREER AND DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES 
The College of Paramedics survey asked what would contribute towards the ability of ambulance services to retain existing staff? Improvements in career progression, training and access to continued professional development were mentioned by the highest number of respondents. The lack of training and development has two main consequences; Firstly, paramedics are leaving to pursue development and new opportunities outside of the ambulance service, which is reducing the qualified and experienced workforce numbers. Secondly, the paramedics that remain are experiencing a change to the type of workload that they most consistently experience but are not historically trained to deal with, this without any ongoing training and development is negatively affecting their confidence and job satisfaction. 

JOB SATISFACTION/WORK EXPERIENCE 
Paramedics take a great deal of satisfaction from the job that they do and are proud of the care that they can give but the intense pressure, increasing workload, including shift over-run and shift patterns also left them feeling exhausted. Mopping up was mentioned, when other areas of the NHS are struggling, the Ambulance Service always responds and attempts to pick up the pieces. This leads to a feeling of ‘lack of respect’; being undervalued. Another challenge was mentioned, that some paramedics had come to the conclusion that dealing with and coping with difficult and/or mediocre colleagues had just become a way of life and to a certain extent accepted as the way it is. It was better to keep your head down and keep off the radar that raise concerns. A move towards peer review and supportive clinical supervision that allows a safe space for positive sharing of experiences and learning would have beneficial effects on staff’s work experiences. Communication was mentioned frequently in the literature and from all the data sources, poor communication was at the top of the list for workplace features that were reported most frequently as having a negative effect on staff’s well-being.  Email communication seemed to be the preferred method used by employers, but this was not at all sufficient and there was no time for operational staff to read them. Only 12% of staff reported having good communications with senior management.

MANAGEMENT ISSUES
Lack of management support was the reason given for leaving an Ambulance Service by the greatest number of respondents in the College of Paramedics survey. Unsupportive management was one workplace feature in particular that had the most significant detrimental impact on staff well-being. Historically management within ambulance services is geared towards vocational ambulance staff that has stayed within the same service for their whole career. Now new paramedics join ambulance services directly from academic institutes, they are young and a more mobile workforce, with less loyalty towards their employer. This change in workforce represents a challenge for some existing management cultures within ambulance services. Staff reported that promotion occurs ‘through the ranks’, with a focus on achievement of performance targets not on delivering clinical quality. An additional complexity is the expanding clinical and professional context and the increasing autonomy of the modern paramedic clashing with traditional command and control management cultures. A lack of formal management training may contribute to what is perceived as inattentive behaviours of managers and a lack of employee engagement. 

PAY AND BENEFITS
Much of the Human Resources Management text discusses pay and the impact of salary on retention at length, but the evidence in the papers, reviewed within this study, specific to emergency personnel suggests that pay only becomes an issue when other aspects of the job are impacting negatively upon the individual or when job satisfaction is low. Pay, was highlighted in the College of Paramedics survey as a reason for leaving and as a potential tool for retaining existing staff. Evidence from Australia indicates that the new graduate paramedics will seek out employment that suits their professional aspirations and their personal needs such as flexible hours and adequate pay. It is therefore necessary to get pay appropriate for the role, but the benefits will be short-lived without improvements in the other three key themes discussed within this study. 

To conclude…
Job satisfaction has been high for paramedics for many years due to the nature of the work, and pride in a job means that people tend to stick with it. Now, however, it appears that the negative impact of some of the other issues are having an effect on how paramedics feel about themselves, their work, their role and their employer. Paramedics often rely upon camaraderie to reduce the innate stresses of the work but due to the increasing workload and changing work practices this coping mechanism is now in short supply. Moving from an environment where underachievement of performance targets is constantly highlighted with blame apportioned, to a culture where learning is shared and people and positives are celebrated, would greatly increase staff satisfaction and wellbeing, and potentially subdue any intention to leave. Arguably Ambulance Services have relatively little influence on the external pull factors that cause paramedics to leave but can certainly work towards reducing the internal factors that push paramedics towards the exit, in particular by investing in their staff’s wellbeing and ongoing professional development. The impact of managers on staff wellbeing and their desire to leave an Ambulance Service should not be underestimated. All the findings within this study highlight a situation that links unsupportive managers with dissatisfied staff. This is a key point, not least because supporting managers to improve their knowledge, skills and behaviours is within the capability of all Ambulance Services.

Author: 
Liz Harris
Head of Professional Standards, College of Paramedics

#itsoktotalk about Mental Health and Well Being

Andy Elwood MCPara shares his personal experiences of mental health.

20/05/2019

I’m no stranger to testing times and traumatic incidents after 20 years in emergency services, beginning in Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, but mostly as a paramedic on search and rescue helicopters. I have also served on the RAF Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) battlefield helicopter in Afghanistan. I have experienced the full range of emotions from euphoria, after risking my own life to save another, through fear during a flashback and the depths of despair when attending many suicide incidents. I have been affected by the cumulative effects of my career, but even more so by the growing pressures of 21st century living in my personal life.
I have learned resilience through my military service and search and rescue career, but my mental strength has been tested most in my personal life through divorce, bereavements, building my own business in my spare time, whilst also changing full-time employment and multiple home relocations.

I became a mental health campaigner in 2016 with a video campaign online, which involved the coastguard helicopter and other 999 services doing press-ups. Our final video broke down some stigma around mental health, with over 45,000 views, but what was really important for me was that I didn’t feel alone anymore. The widespread support from other 999 colleagues made me realise that depression, anxiety and stress were just as common for 999 personnel as for wider society. 

TaIking has been an incredible help to me at critical points in my life. This has allowed me to share the burden of my worries and fears, gain another perspective, see a way forward and realise that I was just being human. This worked for me when I spoke to a psychiatrist after a traumatic incident, during which a patient vomited blood into my eyes and mouth; and also when I talked to my wife after having a flashback to a patient in Afghanistan, five years later, whilst on holiday in France. 

My bravest move v’s Self-Stigma
The largest stigma I have had to overcome, however, was my own self-stigma, when I spoke to my GP last year and admitted I needed some time off work. Burnout had led to depression and a loss of my self-esteem from the cumulative build-up of life stressors since childhood through the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’ and caring for elderly relatives, bereavements, moving home, new job with promotion and running my own business in my spare time. 

The bravest thing I have ever done in my life was to take time off work to rest, reset and then rebuild myself!
I now believe I will save more lives through mental health campaigning, sharing my experience that #itsoktotalk and by delivering Mental Health First Aid training, than I would if I was still dangling under a helicopter, as a paramedic.

Early warning signs
Have you ever noticed any of these in yourself or a colleague?
Irritability, aggression, tearfulness, inability to concentrate, indecision, loss of confidence? Perhaps this could be coupled by increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes or sedatives and some unplanned absences from work… 
Many of us may experience some of these feelings occasionally, which is normal. However, when these feelings start to affect someone’s participation in everyday life or their ability to function safely at work, then we should reach out with support. Mental Health First Aid is just as important as physical first aid. Would you know how best to approach a colleague or loved one, assist them in a crisis and listen non-judgementally?

Simple tips for improving your Wellbeing
I take a minute each morning and evening to note 3 things I’m grateful for, which gives me a positive focus at the start and end of each day. This allows me to focus on what I have, rather than what I am missing. I have an object on my key ring which also reminds me to be grateful during the day, if I’m feeling low. 
Try it and feel the difference yourself.
I also recommend the Five ways of wellbeing, based on research and recommended by the NHS (1), as a simple guide to improve your mental strength and wellbeing by realising it’s important to: 

-Connect
-Keep learning
-Take notice
-Be active
-Give

The beauty of these simple categories is that you can tailor them to suit yourself and what you enjoy doing. I love the outdoors and nature, so meeting a friend for a walk or bike ride enables me to connect, be active and take notice of the beautiful countryside as we chat and enjoy ourselves. Giving can be as simple as sharing a smile with a stranger… it’s surprising how infectious smiles are, in a good way! 
To keep learning, I have challenged myself to make a short film about a trip, in my classic Land Rover, (#AndysLandie blog) around Scotland this summer to assist the introduction of the UK Search and Rescue Wellbeing & Resilience framework for Mountain Rescue Volunteers in Scotland. I’ll be meeting some amazing people on the journey and some of them are joining me to talk about wellbeing and mental strength from my passenger seat, which will be part of the film. Please get in touch if you’d like to be part of the film or if you’d like to invite me to your base as I journey from the Peak District to Scotland.

Work brings a lot of health benefits through a sense of purpose, fulfillment, being part of a team, especially in our line of work. However, mental ill health is usually caused when pressures at work become more intense, coupled with factors outside work; eg. financial pressures, relationship problems, greater caring responsibilities from an ageing population etc. If the workplace is not supportive at this stage, then mental ill health can be triggered into common conditions such as depression, anxiety or stress-related disorders.

Organisational culture can change for the better, as Mind Blue Light Programme (2) recently highlighted with these research key findings from their targeted support:

-staff improved their mental health, resilience and confidence to seek support
-managers & trainers had more confidence supporting staff in difficult situations
-stigma and lack of awareness still exists, but is improving
-sustained change requires practical investment, commitment, enthusiasm at all levels

Why not do something positive to start the conversation on mental health where you work? Or perhaps you could share some of this information with a colleague to promote some wellbeing in team999?

I’m part of the Paramedic Mental Health & Wellbeing Steering group for the College, a Mind Blue Light Champion and I write a blog called ‘Andy’s Landie’, which discusses Mental strength and Wellbeing. 
You can follow me on twitter and Insta @4ndyElwood
Stay wonky and remember #itsoktotalk
 
1. Five ways to wellbeing. New Economics Foundation. 2008. 
2. Mind Blue Light Programme Research Summary 2016-18. London: Mind. 2018.

Mental health crisis and the emergency services - Helping you help me

Liv Pontin, a service user in mental health shares her experiences and contact with the emergency services.

24/04/2019

 

From 2016 to 2018, I experienced a long period of mental health crisis, with multiple experiences of contact with police officers and paramedics, including being detained under the Mental Health Act and on one occasion receiving CPR from police. This article is based on a blog post I developed to share some thoughts on what can help from the emergency services attending to a person in mental health crisis.

We’re here to help”
Firstly, even if you are with an individual who has been in crisis before, emergency service involvement is terrifying. I fear being in trouble, I am terrified that you think I am attention-seeking or wasting your time. Please reassure me that you are here to help me. Remind me that I am not well. This may seem obvious, especially if someone is diagnosed with a mental health problem, if you ‘know’ somebody who you see regularly, or if somebody is clearly distressed. But in crisis, we can lose insight. Please keep reminding me that this is my illness talking, and that I need some help to get well again. I may need to be told the same thing multiple times in order to take it in, but it does stick with me later.

Self-harm and suicidal thoughts
Self-harm and suicidal thoughts/acts are generally not attention-seeking or ‘cries for help’. For many, they are deeply private and shameful, and even for those cases which are ‘attention-seeking,’ serious help is still needed if someone is turning to harming themselves. ‘Attention-seeking’ is not in itself necessarily a bad thing. We all desire human contact and interaction. Whilst many can communicate effectively with words, others may not be able to do so and may communicate their distress in other ways. We never know what has brought a person to that point, and those who need medical treatment as a result of a mental health problem deserve the same care, empathy and treatment as anyone else.

Suicide may seem objectively ‘selfish,’ but to a person in that state of mind, it often seems like the only option. Please do not try to make me feel guilty. Having said that, talking about the impacts on others – including the police or paramedics who are called out to deal with this – can be a very effective way of halting the intention to act on these immediate urges for some.

And thirdly, please do not ever tell somebody that ‘If you really wanted to die, you’d have done it.’ It is not the case, just as it is not true that ‘Truly suicidal people don’t talk about it.’ Sometimes it simply means that somebody is taking every step to help themselves. I have always promised that I will do everything I can to avoid acting on my thoughts. It doesn’t mean I didn’t want to die at those times. But I didn’t want to want to die.  

What it can help to say
In emergency situations it can be tempting to deal with things as quickly as possible and move on. But in mental health crisis, adopting a slower pace, being patient, taking the time to listen, understand and build up trust helps. That rapport is so important. Use that rapport as much as possible: for example, allowing the person who has got that rapport to accompany the individual in the back of an ambulance or to explain decisions.

One thing that can really help to build a rapport is just to talk about ‘normal’ things. We all have likes and dislikes, hobbies, interests, a sense of humour. These are the things that make us who we are, but sometimes it is hard to remember them in crisis point. Where appropriate, use your sense of humour. If you can make me smile, you have got me engaged. Remind me that there is hope, that I have a future and am a worthwhile person. Where appropriate, self-disclosure can also be beneficial. A lot of people suffer from mental health problems at some point, and it is so reassuring to know that people can get through these and find something they love in life.

Two of the most helpful phrases I have heard from police officers are ‘Focus on my voice’ and ‘I’m not going to let you hurt yourself.’ The sound of a calm, caring, firm and direct voice can help me to feel safe and grounded, to listen to your voice and to know that someone is in control of the situation. 

Please try to give me options where appropriate and try to guide me towards making the ‘best’ choice. However, please also be aware that at times I am so consumed by my illness that I need you to take control away from me and make the best decision, even if I can’t see it at the time.

And finally, always remember the difference you make
The impact you have will stay with someone forever. I know at times it is frustrating for you, particularly if there are repeated incidences and nothing seems to be happening as a result, and particularly where the system is clearly failing. It may take time for me to get well. It is likely to be a slow journey with many ups and downs. But you are making a difference. I will remember the care you provide to me, be that good or bad. The words you say will stay with me forever. And I cannot put into words how grateful I am to you. 

We are deeply saddened by the tragic news about Liv Pontin.
Only recently Liv chose to write a powerful & emotive piece for us to help paramedics and those experiencing difficulties with their mental health. For this we are extremely thankful. Our sympathies go to those that knew her.
A JustGiving page has been set up in her honor.

The College of Paramedics is thankful and honoured that Liv has shared her story and insights with our members in this article.

For anyone needing support or advice:
TASC
The Ambulance Service Charity 
0800 1032 999
support@theasc.org.uk 

MIND Blue Light Infoline 
0300 303 5999 (local rates)    
bluelightinfo@mind.org.uk    
Text: 84999

Samaritans
24-hour helpline: 116 123
jo@samaritans.org
samaritans.org

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
01455 883 300
For local practitioners

Cruse Bereavement Care
0808 808 1677 
cruse.org.uk

Rethink Advice And Information Service
0300 5000 927
rethink.org 

My Mental Health and How I Manage it

Gary Strong MCPara talks about his experiences of mental health and what he does to manage it.

05/03/2019

In my family history, there are persons who have suffered, and continue to suffer mild, moderate and - in one case - severe mental health issues. Apart from the severe case, much of this was never diagnosed. As children we were told that such and such a person was ‘bad with their nerves’. My parents’ generation didn’t talk about such things, which only made matters worse. I guess all this puts me ‘at risk’. 

This didn’t even occur to me when I joined the ambulance service and applied to become a paramedic. But after some years of being out there ‘on the road’, I came to realise a couple of important facts. Firstly, there are many, many families that have to contend with mental health issues on a daily basis, and some of these issues are utterly soul destroying. If I am at risk, so it seems is much of the population. Secondly, being a paramedic can be good (as well as bad) for my mental health. Let’s put it this way: in what percentage of the calls we attend is there somebody there who is really pleased to see us, and very grateful for all we have tried to do? The gratitude of patients, families and the general public, in my experience, far outweighs the abuse we get. 

These days in practice, when I frequently find ways of keeping folk out of hospital, it seems to me they are even more grateful! All this is psychologically positive and has a great impact on my personal sense of well being. We all need to be ‘stroked’, say the psychologists, and alongside this positive affirmation, there is a great deal of job satisfaction in making a good referral. But what of the downside of the job? Maybe I’ve been lucky over the years. Compared to some of my colleagues, I haven’t seen too many mangled bodies, and the biggest major incident I’ve ever attended was a county-wide flooding which went on for a couple of weeks. But those severe mental health incidents in the middle of the night, they unnerve me. They are just a bit too close to home sometimes, which leads to another important realisation: we are all vulnerable over something. In some ways, to do this job, you have to harden up. If every messy injury or sad social situation gets under your skin, then you are probably in the wrong job. But no matter how strong you are in yourself, you are human, and there is always the risk that one incident you attend will find your weak spot and hit your mental health where it hurts. Fortunately, nowadays, it is ok to say that you are not ok. 

For the many paramedics who move ‘off the road’ into another role, the risks to your mental health start to appear from other directions. In primary care, the patient that turned up late with a seemingly intractable problem, when you were already feeling mentally drained, well they may have left your clinic, but they just won’t leave your head. In education, it might be the pressure to take on more students or inflate grades. In management, you can have a great day, successfully completing the tasks you set out to do, then that one little email on top of all the others, whoever it is from, whatever it is about, that’s the one that punches a big fat hole in your resilience and wrecks you for the rest of the week. What do you do about all this? What do I do about all this? Think back...what is the first thing you are taught to do when approaching a scene? ‘Check for dangers.’ If you don’t do this, you may become a casualty and then we have a bigger problem. But how many of us check for dangers in our own lives? 

These days I am much more aware of the dangers, and there are a few things I do that might be termed ‘preventative medicine’. They could equally be called: ‘switch off, focus on the positives and enjoy life!’ I love playing guitar, mostly bass guitar, and although I am not particularly proficient, playing in a band means having to concentrate and forget about work for a while, and being a paramedic helps in some ways: if I play a few bum notes, or we have a bad gig, well, well nobody died did they? After all, it’s only rock’n’roll. Recently I have been learning to sail dinghies, and again, I have to concentrate, or I am going to fall into the river. Most importantly, for all I said about mental health issues, I have some very positive relationships with family and friends, and here’s a tip: no matter how much you love this amazing profession, make an effort to keep up with your friends outside of work. They will still be with you when work becomes a thing of the past, and they will help to keep you sane. Finally, for me, there is a lot to be said for having an energetic dog. Like most of my patients, he is always pleased to see me, and on a miserable wet days like today, he insists I get some exercise! 

Author: 
Gary Strong
National CPD Lead (Education), College of Paramedics

A Personal Account of Mental Health

By Rory O'Connor MCPara, Northern Ireland Trustee and Paramedic with Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

18/02/2019

 

Mental health and wellbeing are important topics both for the wider public, but also for members of the paramedic profession and wider health services. Unfortunately, an online poll carried out by MIND in 2016 found more than one in four (27%) people had contemplated taking their own lives due to stress and poor mental health while working for the emergency services, while nearly two thirds (63%) had contemplated leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health. This is allied to the fact that the Office for National Statistics has found that the paramedic profession has proportionally one of the highest rates of suicide.

Behind each of these statistics there are personal stories and experiences. For some, years of working in and dealing with hugely traumatic events can cause a gradual deterioration in their mental health, and for others single traumatic events can trigger a crisis. 

I have been working as a paramedic on a double crewed ambulance for six years. In this time, as is relatable to most of my colleagues, we unfortunately can experience events and situations which are tragic, traumatic, stressful, upsetting and on occasion all of these.

We all have our own experiences and thought we can turn to when our colleagues mention ‘bad cases’. But, whilst the causes are diverse, our experiences I have found are shared, acute and unique to those who work in a frontline ambulance.

After attending several ’incidents’ in a short space of time, my mood was low, I could not sleep, I was irritable with family and friends, had no time for my children whom I love, and became more introverted and closed off. However, I am a paramedic and this is what we do, so I soldiered on and continued to work. This was most certainly the wrong decision, but it is a decision many of us make in the profession for exactly the reasons I have outlined. I thought, this is the job, I need to be tougher, I need to keep going, this is what we signed up for and I need to just keep going to work and eventually everything will be ok. Whilst this is my own personal experience, and this how I rationalised going to work day after day whilst on the verge of mental breakdown, I have learnt and can assume that my reasons are not uncommon amongst ambulance staff who continue to go to work even when being acutely impacted by the work we do.
I had not recognised that in fact I was in the midst of a mental health crisis and was barely functioning on a day to day basis. I marched on and kept going until I had one bad incident too many and couldn’t march on and go on any longer. It all caught up with me like a tsunami and I ended up home from work in the middle of a night shift completely broken.
Once I could not go on and made the decision to go home from work, I experienced crushing lows which I had never experienced before. Day after day of struggling to get out of bed and go on. I sought help via the external counselling service offered by my employer, but initially found this of little benefit as I was not placed with a counsellor with any understanding of our job or how it can impact on us. Eventually, my extremely supportive line manager arranged counselling with a specialist trauma counsellor who recognised that I was suffering with PTSD. It was not PTSD like the movies, it was how we experience it in real life. Flashing images of tragic events, not sleeping, lucid memories of awful scenes and incidents, things that I thought were long in the past and dealt with coming back and causing me to doubt myself, my profession and my ability to ever do the job again.

Thankfully, the second counsellor I attended was fantastic. It was difficult confronting my issues, but with a wonderfully supportive family and appropriate help I did so, and managed after an extended period of sick leave to go back to full operational duties.

I work and feel comfortable being back at work. However, I am not the same paramedic or man that I was prior to this. I feel like I carry my experiences with me every day, and some days are good and some are not, but I am acutely aware of the warning signs and dangers of my own mental health. 

My advice is, we are not super human. We should not soldier on. We should not keep on going regardless. Don’t just say this is the job and I have to do it. Don’t feel worthless or like a failure. Don’t worry what anyone else will think, you will find that almost all of your colleagues will be supportive, understanding and will want to help you. If you need it, get help. Get help from your employer, from your GP, from a confidential service, from any service you think will help. But ask for help, and if you don’t feel like it helped the first time ask again.

For further support: 
Blue Light Infoline: 0300 303 5999
Or, the Samaritans: 116123

Author: 
Rory O'Connor
Trustee for Northern Ireland

Grief, a Personal Journey of my Mental Health

Bob Fellows FCPara gives a personal account of his journey with mental health.

22/01/2019

 

It has been said that grief is the sudden breakdown of your life as you know it and then the challenge of trying to pick up the myriad of small pieces to be able to put your life back together or at least try. My grief didn’t start on the day of Helen’s death, it was already underway when I knew she was very ill with cancer. Some short-term false hope was offered by a hospital Doctor who told us it was eminently treatable by a hysterectomy, sadly not so. MRI and CT scans stated that it was so advanced it had escaped into the rest of her lymphatic system and across into her lungs. The shock of being told the final diagnosis immobilised me, yes, I was speechless, stunned, angry, who could I blame, who could be held to account. We clung to each other in a hospital corridor. Sod it, why us.

When you tell people, they say they are sorry, why? are they to blame? Reality is that we don’t know what to say to people. I didn’t even know how to tell people, let alone my children. So, the next question is, how long do we have? What treatments will make a difference? Who gets to decide?

Whilst all this is going, on you start to crumble, you cry, you struggle to exist, it’s all oncologists and discussions related to your journey into the dead. Did I handle it well? I don’t know, I made myself busy and very few people could get close, even Helen started to shut down. She cried the day she was told at the hospital and I only ever saw her cry once more. She was a woman with a very strong Christian faith, and she was fully convinced she would die, and her spirit would go to Heaven leaving the rest of us to deal with the discarded body via a ceremony and a disposal, her choice a cremation.

I was primary carer and my paramedic background gave me no preparation and, I am sad to say, I was soon so tired, I just wanted to sleep. Could I have handled it better, probably. Fortunately, the diagnosis to her actual death was 56 days, that is less than 8 weeks, the final three days were in a hospice.

It was only after she had died, did I truly let myself feel, I kept people clear as my broken mind was too intimate to share. I was still me, despite my mental health being shot to pieces, I wasn’t ashamed, I was just totally numb. I spent hours walking my dog trying to make sense of it. I wanted answers, I wanted to understand why, what had we done to deserve this. I briefly considered what it might be like to die and join her. Does that make sense, not if you consider it from the point of my children or my friends or even my dog. Death was not an escape, it was not an option, well not for me. I never took sleeping tablets or went on to antidepressants, I knew the journey ahead was very long, I needed to be fully awake. Not that I slept very well, alcohol suppressed some of the silence. I would cry at music, pictures, memories, I’d even cry at the loneliness and the emptiness of just being on your own. Deep down I was angry.

The funeral was tough, but necessary. I chose to speak, and I allowed anybody to speak who wanted to. Yes, it was in a church, yes it was very full and yes there was singing and a message of Helen’s faith. But it was a celebration of her short life (55 years) and what a joy she was to so many. Did it comfort me, no. But it wasn’t about me.

So, is my ongoing, but fading grief a temporary mental health condition, is it a form of depression. Do you know? Well I don’t care, I don’t want to know. It just crushed me for a season. How long was my season, is it over yet? Well I am scared, but no longer crushed, am I sad? Well sometimes, am I over it? I don’t know, what am I getting over? Please don’t tell me its early days, how would you know. Most of you haven’t trodden my path and even if you have experienced something similar, maybe you had it worse than me or maybe it had less impact. Don’t try to fix me, just be my friend, listen to me if I want to talk, laugh with me if I am laughing, don’t tread on egg shells near me, they are small fragments of me, its ok.

There is a sacredness in my tears, a silent language of grief and no pain is a great as the memory of joy in the present. I have three chairs in my life, I put them in a row. One represents the past, one is the present and one is the future. Did you know how uncomfortable it is to try to sit on two chairs at the same time. In the early days of grief, the present is too much so you sit in the past. Practically, you must switch to the present and then go back again for memories, tears and the experience of personal loss and pain. Funnily enough I can only measure the pain in the present. I avoided the future for a season (whatever that season is for you) and now I have spent a lot more time in the future planning a new season. I still have all three chairs, I will never get rid of them, they are part of my past, my present and a new hope in my future. My faith sustains me, it is stronger than ever.

I am not ashamed of my story, I hope it inspires you and gives you hope for your future.

Author: 
Bob Fellows FCPara
Head of Education, College of Paramedics 

Stroke Mimics or Are They?

Sue Newsome shares her experience of her father being mis-diagnosed with a Stroke Mimic

30/04/2018

My Dad had a Stoke on the 15th of June 2015, a date that will be forever etched in my memory. Dad phoned me and said ‘Sue I’m scared I’m having a Stroke, I know because I have watched the adverts on TV’. ‘My vision and my balance have gone’. Dad sounded petrified and his speech was slurred. I told him I would phone his neighbour to sit with him and I would call an ambulance and then head over. I live in Stockport, Dad lived in Huddersfield. I explained all of Dad’s symptoms to the call handler and then set off to Dad’s. I arrived at Huddersfield A&E about an hour and a half after Dad’s call. I had several missed calls from my partner so I phoned him. Paramedics had contacted him to say that they didn’t feel there was any reason to take Dad to hospital as he wasn’t having a Stroke. I was shocked and phoned them as requested at Dad’s. They informed me that he wasn’t having a Stroke, I explained that I thought that he was from his description of events, but I would leave the hospital and meet them at Dad’s. This was to be my first mistake. When I arrived at Dad’s he was confused and disoriented and his speech was slurred. They asked if he always spoke like that and I explained he didn’t. They told me that Dad was FAST (Face, Arm, Speech, Time) negative despite me reiterating Dad’s earlier description of his symptoms. I explained Dad was Diabetic and they told me he had AF as they had carried out an ECG. I would subsequently find out that these were both ‘Red Flag’ indicators to consider a Stroke. I was told Dad didn’t want to go to hospital, Dad never said this to me. Can someone who is confused and experiencing a Stroke be considered to have capacity? I reiterated I thought Dad was having a Stroke several times. I was asked to stay with Dad overnight and call his GP out the next day. This was to be my second and fatal mistake. I agreed to this reluctantly. Dad’s confusion worsened, I called his GP the following morning. He came out took one look at Dad and said he wasn’t right and he would arrange for Dad to go to the Stroke Unit immediately. I drove Dad to Halifax where his scan revealed he had experienced a Stroke. This led to Dad developing Vascular Dementia and dying after 15 months of devastating declining health. 

I am aware that there is some recent research into adding Visual and Balance disturbances into the FAST diagnostic assessment and I am keen for this to be developed. Had this been part of FAST when Dad experienced his Stroke the outcome for him could have been very different.

I would also like to discuss the current trend in Stroke research. I am aware that current research patterns to identify effective Stroke Pathways are focusing on ‘Stroke Mimics’. For the majority of people and HCP’s this is a positive step facilitating effective identification and ensuring the most appropriate care pathway using accurate clinical diagnostic tools. This therefore enables the person to be conveyed to the correct hospital or Regional Stroke Unit. It ensures the most effective use of limited specialist Stroke resources. 

Conversely to balance out the effectiveness of identifying Strokes and teasing out the Stroke Mimics there needs to be research conducted into the percentage of people who are identified as Stroke Mimics but are in fact having a Stroke. What is the cost financially both to them and to the NHS for their post Stroke care.  Also, the impact on personal lives and on families from a misdiagnosis. Effective diagnostic tools are essential if these Strokes incorrectly diagnosed as Mimics are to be minimised. The FAST test is not a fool proof clinical diagnostic tool and some Strokes aren’t identified using this diagnostic criteria. 

My concern is whilst the emphasis is on identifying Stroke Mimics is there going to be an increase in missed Strokes because they aren’t identified using FAST and are deemed FAST negative and consequently don’t receive treatment at a Regional Stroke Unit. As Stroke treatment is time critical there is very little time to waste. From personal experience misdiagnosing a Stroke as a Stroke Mimic has devastating life changing consequences. I would respectfully ask all paramedics to listen to their patients experiences carefully and their families accounts. I didn’t feel that Dad or I was listened to. It was ultimately my decision to agree for Dad to stay at home on the paramedics advice. This is a decision I will bitterly regret for the rest of my life. Had Dad been taken to hospital he may have been suitable for a Thrombolysis and his last 15 months of life would not have been experienced the trauma of Vascular Dementia.
University of Kentucky. "Study supports change to FAST mnemonic for stroke." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 February 2017. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170223202514.htm

BE-FAST (Balance, Eyes, Face, Arm, Speech, Time): Reducing the Proportion of Strokes Missed Using the FAST Mnemonic. Aroor S, et al. Stroke. 2017. 

Author: 
Sue Newsome

I’ve seen terrible things as a paramedic. The worst isn’t what you’d expect

Liz Harris FCPara talks about the worst thing she has seen as a paramedic

24/04/2018

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen? Ask any paramedic and they will have been asked this question many times over in their careers. I’d never given myself time to properly think about the answer, until recently.

Is it having my fingers in the back of a teenage boy’s brain as my colleague and I lift his limp bloody body into a bag after he had flipped over his new car on a dark country road?

Is it looking upon a small, wafer thin, dead child curled up on her Cinderella duvet after drinking her parents’ medication that they use to help with their addictions?

Is it the elderly man whose closed curtains had gone unnoticed by his busy neighbours while he lay decomposing into his own carpet?

It is none of these.

My answer starts at 6.10am one morning many years ago with a callout to an elderly man who is struggling to breathe.

We arrive at a slightly neglected bungalow where a frail elderly figure limps slowly to the door and greets us with an apology – she didn’t want to bother us. Her husband is slumped in the front room. I know he is not well and he needs to go to hospital. Mavis*, the woman who answered the door, is visibly shaken on hearing this news but she finds solace in starting preparations for her beloved husband, Bert, to leave for hospital. He needs clean pyjamas and a toothbrush, and after fondly rubbing his chin, he will need his razor too.

I give Bert some oxygen and start to think that if we don’t get him to the ambulance quite quickly he will collapse. Mavis returns tearful with her husband’s belongings. I talk to her to try to convey the seriousness and urgency of the situation. Bert is stoic in his responses, telling his wife he will be fine, but he is kind too, reminding Mavis of how much he loves her. Mavis is proud, they have been married for more than 60 years, she says, as she ambles away again.

I look around the room at faded photos of many generations of their family. Bert tells me they are all dead now, even their son who died young. I talk with him and reassure him that we will be going to hospital soon. She is the love of my life, he says, between tiring breaths; there has never been anyone else. I remember his soft slow words perfectly and the telling look in his eyes – he knows he is not coming home again. I worry that we are taking too long. Bert needs to be in hospital quickly; I don’t want him to die in my ambulance.

Mavis is elderly and frail herself, and accompanying her husband to hospital isn’t an option. I worry there is no one to come to help her when we are gone. My haste to get Bert out of the door and to hospital is abruptly subdued by the realisation that this is most probably their final moment together; they are about to say goodbye to each other for the last time.

I try to convey the gravity of the situation to Mavis. I think she finally understands when her eyes fill up. She limps back towards Bert, who is still protesting to her that he will be fine. Her hands cup his cheeks as her small stooped frame leans forward to give him a kiss. I pause momentarily, trying to be invisible, and then ask quietly if we can go. Mavis delicately flattens Bert’s hair to one side of his head, smiles at me and nods her head. I ask Bert if that is OK and he smiles and nods too.

Bert died later that day and I spent a lot of time wondering what happened to Mavis. I knew that I had cared for Bert and looked after him well, but I had deserted Mavis, I had left her all alone. I toyed with the idea of visiting her to check up on her. This felt right in many ways, but wrong in others too. I didn’t know what to do. I had prioritised Bert’s care but in doing so neglected what Mavis needed. I was left feeling I had failed her in many ways.

When thinking about my answer to the “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?” question it didn’t take me long to remember this job, even though it happened many years ago. It is the job that I most agonised over. It is the job that stayed with me for the longest time after it was over. You might think it can’t be the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it is definitely the worst thing I’ve ever felt.

I never did go back and check on Mavis.

Author: 
Liz Harris
Head of Professional Standards, College of Paramedics

Paramedics Need Degrees? Why?

Richard Taffler MCPara discusses whether paramedics need degrees.

06 04 2018

On the 4th July 1996 I joined Royal Berkshire Ambulance Service (RBAS) as a direct entry technician, or trainee assistant paramedic as we were called by RBAS. Six weeks of ambulance training, three weeks of driving, a week of local training and I was out on the road responding to 999 calls. My first shift was at Henley on Thames and the only job we went on that night was a murder . . . . I’d never even seen a dead body before, let alone someone who had been killed! 

In my first (trainee) year I was asked at least three times by my mentor if I was sure if this was the right job for me. I was hopeless at talking to patients (well almost anyone) and the old boys (and girls) frequently commented that this was because I hadn’t served my time in PTS before becoming part of the 999 team. They were, however, very supportive, and helped me to survive the first few difficult years in such a challenging job. 

A year later I started my 12-week paramedic course and qualified as an IHCD paramedic around 18 months after that first fateful shift. At that time a training officer turned up on the last Friday of your a & e placement, shook your hand and handed you a set of paramedic epaulettes for you to wear on your next shift! I think I was just about safe, clinically, but it was about 5 years into the job before I felt remotely comfortable talking to patients. 

In those days, the only career pathway for a paramedic was within the ambulance service who also didn’t accept any non-ambulance qualification as any indicator of clinical or other competence. A career for life, or at least until your back gave out…

In the following 17 years I have completed a MSc in Advanced Healthcare Practice, spent 5 years in clinical management before returning to operational ambulance duties and was a clinical representative on the College of Paramedics Post Graduate Curriculum Guidance Group. I have three jobs: Specialist Paramedic (Urgent & Emergency Care) for South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust, an Advanced Paramedic for Devon Doctors Ltd (our local OOH primary care provider) and I’m also joining the RAF reserves as a paramedic. And I think I’ve learnt how to talk to patients too.

There has been a lot of discussion, particularly on social media, about the HCPC’s announcement that they are soon only going to register new paramedics who have a degree, and is this a good thing for the profession? Surely, it’s people skills that are more important? So let’s discuss this, and I’d like to state that these are my opinions, not my employers’ or those of the College.

The paramedic profession is only about 30 years old in any form that we’d recognise today and ‘paramedic’ has only been a protected title since 2001. We are still a new profession, particularly when compared to modern nursing, which can be traced at least back to 1860 with the establishment of the nursing school at St Thomas’s in London by Florence Nightingale. 

We used to be regarded, and by ourselves too, as the emergency part of the NHS. Unique, out on a limb, not particularly well integrated. This has changed massively in the last 20 years: now we’re a young, small profession (Figure 1) in the wider AHP community. 



Even as a ‘frontline’ NHS paramedic, my role has changed massively in the last 20 years. Then it seemed to be about carrying people in and out of the ambulance as much as it was about clinical skills. Resuscitations often involved squirting large volumes of drugs down an ET tube while waiting for about 5 minutes for the defib to warm up. Everyone who was involved in an RTC was boarded, rapid takedown of patients who had managed to get out of their cars before we arrived were routine...Lidocaine for pulsed VT...IV tramadol for analgesia as we couldn’t give morphine. 

How things have changed. I think I’m now expected to know almost everything about almost any condition (Google is my friend!). The demographics of my ‘ambulance’ patients appears to have changed. Increasingly I see complex patients with exacerbations of chronic conditions and those that would have previously accessed the NHS via other services such as primary care or would have just looked after themselves. On the flip side, we now use increasingly technical and complex equipment and a wider range of medicines. Resuscitations now potentially involve chest compression devices, biphasic defibrillation, drugs administered IO and significant emphasis on post ROSC care. On top of my paramedic exemption drugs (as defined by the Medicines Act), I’m now expected to use a combination of 54 medicine protocols and PGDs. The traditional NHS paramedic role is significantly more technical and academic than it used to be and I believe that the transition to a degree requirement for new registrants appropriately reflects these changes and developments, and not just in my Specialist role.

NHS England and the devolved nation equivalents are quite rightly trying to standardise aspects of AHP roles within the NHS, including titles, initial training and education. This has been facilitated by professional bodies along with other stakeholders such as HEIs and employers, and this is gradually coming to fruition. This will give colleagues, the public and aspirant AHPs an improved understanding of NHS roles and how they relate to each other, while, hopefully, enhancing patient care and safety. These include:

New entry to the relevant professional register requires a degree level qualification;
Progression to a ‘Specialist’ role requires a post graduate diploma and the relevant skills, knowledge and experience;
Progression to an ‘Advanced’ role requires a Masters degree and the relevant skills knowledge and experience;
Aspirant AHP independent prescribers should be working at ‘Advanced’ level, they must have the support from their employer, a doctor as a mentor, a role where prescribing is relevant and complete an approved course of study. 

I know that not all Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) have achieved all of these aspects yet, and, please note, I am not talking just about paramedics, but AHPs in general. 
Therefore, if you meet a specialist nurse, you will have an understanding of their competency and skill level, while they will also, hopefully, understand your ‘Advanced paramedic’ role.

For us, the College of Paramedics has been representing our profession in these developments and one of the first aspects to be published was the Paramedic Post Registration Career Framework (now in its 3rd edition). The Framework Diagram is below:



This has been enhanced by the Paramedic Post Graduate Curriculum Guidance document [insert link], published in 2017, and the Paramedic Digital Career Framework which is jointly published by NHS England and the College of Paramedics. Please take the time to have a look at these documents, they affect you, your colleagues and your profession.

The public, our professional colleagues and members of our own profession sometimes think of a ‘paramedic’ as someone who works on an NHS ambulance responding to 999 calls. These days, I think that’s a very blinkered and ill-informed view, even though that’s where most of us started out in our careers. A search of NHS Jobs for ‘paramedic’ yielded the following results:

• Health Visiting
• Ambulance Service
• Primary Care 
• General Practice
• Emergency Services
• Community Health Services
• Forensic Services
• Adult Mental Health Services
• Administration
• Research
• Senior Lecturer
• Health and Safety
• Prison Service
• 111 Clinician
• Management
• Immigration Services

The number and diversity of these paramedic roles continues to increase as new employers recognise our individual and collective skills, knowledge and experience. For everyone’s benefit we need to ensure that paramedics as a profession and as individuals are highly regarded and valued. The HCPCs requirement for new paramedics to have a degree is part of this. Rather than kicking against this change we should be celebrating the increasing inclusion of paramedics within the wider AHP community and the consequential recognition of the paramedic profession within the NHS and beyond.

As far as the original question of ‘do you need a degree to be a paramedic, surely people skills are more important’? No, you don’t need a degree. There are plenty of non-degree paramedics working in many roles. But I have four riders for this:

1. No paramedic course has consistently produced staff with good people skills. Mine didn’t, and that’s something that I think some of us can only develop over time. Having a degree or not isn’t linked to people skills. A new geeky paramedic who’s hopeless with patients may develop into someone who progresses far in their career. I did!
 
2. There are a number of paramedic roles which have little or no patient contact, but are quite academic. Please don’t be blinkered.
 
3. While you might not need a degree to do your job at the moment, your profession needs to progress with common AHP standards, including education, for the benefit of future paramedics, patients and UK healthcare.
 
4. The paramedic profession is increasingly complex, technical and requires an increasing level of academic as well as experiential knowledge. The changes in the last 20 years are incredible. The next 20 years are only likely to increase the complexity of our work and we need to demonstrate that we are individually up to the task ahead. Academic achievement will only be one aspect of this.

If you’re still unsure about this progressive change for our profession, then please talk to your degree qualified colleagues and perhaps consider a top up of your existing qualifications. 

And no, personally I don’t think current degree courses reflect the needs of the profession moving forward. I’d like to see a greater congruence between the patients that we’re seeing, and are likely to see in our careers, and the content of undergraduate courses. I’d love to see consultation skills taught as compulsory modules in year one and two of all paramedic degree courses. That would potentially benefit every patient contact in our careers...and may address some of the ongoing concerns with interpersonal skills at the same time? And how about a module on ethics & risk management? Rant over, but HEI’s please note!

Remember, we’ve achieved in just over 30 years what it’s taken nursing about 160 years . . . 

http://www.nhsconfed.org/resources/key-statistics-on-the-nhs
https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/other-publications/the-nmc-register-30-september-2017.pdf
https://www.nmc.org.uk/about-us/reports-and-accounts/registration-statistics/
https://www.collegeofparamedics.co.uk/publications/post-reg-career-framework [insert link]
https://www.collegeofparamedics.co.uk/publications/post-graduate-curriculum-guidance [insert link]

Author: 
Richard Taffler MSc BSc(Hons) BEng FASI MCPara


People Like Us?

College of Paramedics Executive Officer, Liz Harris takes a look at the recent HCPC 'People Like Us?' report and considers why so many paramedics self refer.

28/02/2018

Why does the paramedic profession have a disproportionately high number of HCPC fitness to practise cases against it when compared to the numbers of paramedics on the register? The ‘People Like Us?’ report was produced following research commissioned by the HCPC in response to several years of high numbers of fitness to practise cases against paramedics. In 2016-17 paramedics made up 7% of the Register and 13% of fitness to practise cases. You may think that these individuals are exceptions within the profession, that they differ in terms of their motives or behaviours but in fact they are just like us. They are people like us. The vast majority of referrals where ‘one offs’, did not result in any harm to a patient and only 18% of referrals came from complaints from the public. Public perceptions and changing expectations were factors highlighted in the report as reasons for referrals. These factors are also linked to the nature of paramedic practice, paramedics deal with people in crisis, at their most vulnerable time and in unpredictable situations.  

In the sample within this research, 46% of the HCPC referrals came from self-referral compared to an average of 26% across all 16 professions. 84% of the paramedic self-referrals resulted in no further action by the regulator. These figures suggest that the disproportionality highlighted in this research originates from a high number of self-referrals that do not meet the HCPC standards of acceptance for an allegation, rather than an indication of clinician impairment of competence. This statistic is at first sight welcoming, but on deeper consideration it is clear that a HCPC referral, whatever the outcome is most probably significantly psychologically distressing for the individual and their family.

It is important for us to remember the history of the paramedic profession when discussing the findings within this report. The professionalisation of paramedics began to occur following introduction of registration. Regulation of paramedics by the Council of Professionals Supplementary to Medicine began in 2000 (and subsequently by the then Health Professions Council (HCPC) in 2003. This regulation fuelled the formation of the paramedic professional body, the British Paramedic Association in 2001 with a name change to College of Paramedics in 2004. This situation is unlike some of the other professions regulated by the HCPC who had already established their professional status during many preceding years. 

In the early years of registration, paramedics were not prepared and fully informed of the processes and consequences of professional regulation. This combined with the effects of the cultures highlighted within the report has led to consequences that have perpetuated over the years and are still apparent today. These consequences are detailed in the full report through narrative accounts from working paramedics describing ‘fear of the HCPC’, a ‘big stick’ approach by Ambulance Services to tackling issues and complaints with the threat of ‘you better self-refer or else you’ll be struck off’ ringing true for many in the profession. These accounts point towards a notion that the paramedic profession could have had a much better relationship with the HCPC if Ambulance Service culture had been different. 

Ambulance Services could increase their support for paramedics in several key professional areas; complaints and investigation processes are a notoriously difficult time for paramedics to navigate, access to all appropriate documentation and expert statement writing guidance is vital; fitness to practice processes can be long and arduous and impact negatively upon the individual’s confidence; continuing to work whether under sanction or not can be clinically, ethically and emotionally very challenging; any clinical development following a return to practice must be robust and effective. Adequate professional and psychological support for paramedics and other frontline ambulance clinicians must make its way right to the frontline where it is needed most.  

The College of Paramedics welcomes the findings within this report and thanks the HCPC for its commissioning. Not only because now the situation is highlighted through a robust piece of research, we can look to understand the complex reasons and begin to educate to dispel the myths that still prevail and work towards reducing the number of unnecessary self-referrals that paramedics make. This report marks a moment in time to move away from what prevailed before and towards a different and much better relationship with our regulator and the employers of paramedics. The findings and recommendations should also provide further impetus for ambulance services developing more positive and transparent approaches to clinical issues and complaints with patient safety and professional learning at the core of any investigative process. 

Should you have any further questions or suggestions on how to tackle some of the points highlighted please email liz.harris@collegeofparamedics.co.uk 

Author:
Liz Harris, Head of Professional Standards, College of Paramedics

Flu jab: it’s about doing the right thing, right?

College of Paramedics Executive Officer, Liz Harris reflects on why some paramedics are deciding not to receive the flu vaccination.

18/01/2018

I have not been quiet recently about my opinions on the flu vaccination, I’ve promoted its benefits through social media, the College of Paramedics INSIGHT magazine, spoke about the potential consequences of not having the vaccination at the Emergency Services Show and facilitated vaccination opportunities for attendees at several recent CPD events.  

I also feel that I can’t remain quiet either on some of the responses and attitudes I have heard whilst doing all this. The responses look like this…‘It might make me ill and I’ve had too much time off sick already’, ‘I’m not having the flu jab in my own time, I’ll wait until I can get out of getting a job’, ‘I’m not helping the service get a load of cash for hitting targets’, ‘If I get the flu that’s alright cause it means I can go off sick then’. All of these reasons leave me uncomfortable and are difficult to digest, arguably for different reasons but do they highlight a prevailing culture that is not beneficial for staff wellbeing and patient safety. 

As registered health professionals, paramedics have a professional obligation to keep themselves healthy and their patients safe. For me, that means contributing to the reduction in the spread of a (to a certain extent) preventable infectious disease that kills thousands in the UK every year. There are good reasons for not having a flu jab but I have not heard any of these voiced recently and they are certainly not those I mention above.

These responses are unpleasant at best and at worst, corrosive. But they are a reflection of a culture that historically has not supported staff to develop, learn, achieve and inspire. I look forward to a time when the behaviours highlighted in the responses above are a thing of the past along with the command and control culture through which they were born, and a time when all ambulance services can achieve flu vaccination uptake numbers to rival the best NHS hospital trusts.  

Author:
Liz Harris, Head of Professional Standards, College of Paramedics

My experience of receiving a fitness to practise concern

College of Paramedics member Rebecca Connolly MCPara shares her experience of receiving a fitness to practise concern.

26/06/2017

 

I have been a member of the College of Paramedics since 2013 and had little cause to use their insurance protection until 2015 when I received a HCPC fitness to practise (FtP) concern.

I’ve been a paramedic for four years, I’m proud of the job I do – and I’m good at it.  I pride myself on delivering exceptional clinical care and so to receive notification of the concern was a huge blow both professionally and personally.  I remember receiving a large parcel through the post with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) logo on – I immediately knew it couldn’t have been good.  When I opened the parcel, there was a letter from the HCPC detailing the concern with all their evidence attached.  I didn’t receive an initial letter as some people do and it was like I’d been punched in the stomach. The crippling sense of nausea and fear was something that will remain with me. The contents of the HCPC’s letter and evidence was presented in such a formal and legal way, completely unexpectedly that I immediately felt guilty without even being given the chance to defend myself, against what appeared to be a malicious allegation.  I felt utterly vulnerable, and it honestly felt like I was on a criminal trial.

I started to try and put together a plan to deal with it and so contacted the College of Paramedics in relation to their FtP insurance.  Following the completion of a claim form I was directed via Abbey Legal to Andrea James of Knights 1759 firm of solicitors.  From the outset she reassured me, took everything on board and took full ownership of my case.  This was a hugely reassuring step because I didn’t feel so alone.  I still felt massively vulnerable due to the number of unknowns – we all want to remain in practice and so the mere possibility of being struck off remained with me every day.

She took the time to set up a meeting and asked me lots of questions, detailing my side of events, what happened and why.  My case was unusual in some respects but she formulated a detailed plan and confirmed that she could take my case for me.  From that point, I had little contact with the HCPC as everything was completed vicariously through her – and this was brilliant.  She advised me to continue to work as normal and try not to worry too much.  

During this period, I was asked to collate various pieces of information for them and obtain character and clinical references that would form part of the response to the Investigation Committee.  I was informed of everything every step of the way and I believe that Andrea – who is a partner at the law firm – went out of her way to keep in contact and reassure me.  The fact that she was my point of contact was a great relief – it wasn’t passed to a junior member of staff and I was never passed from pillar to post.  Any questions were answered expediently and nothing was too much trouble.  She appointed an expert to produce a report for me and all this was covered by the College’s standard insurance cover, which is part of full membership. 

Following the Investigating Committee meeting in early 2016 it was found that the case would proceed to a hearing and the HCPC’s rationale baffled both myself and the solicitor in that the presumption of guilt was evident from the outset with no regard to expert evidence submitted.  This was hugely stressful and I found that I lost further confidence in work – any letter that came for me was immediately met with panic attacks, I was so worried and it permeated into every aspect of my life.  When you’re passionate about the job, and genuinely care about doing it well, the thought of losing it has perhaps been one of the most stressful experiences of my life.

It was some relief to know that I was fully supported by my legal team, which at this point included Andrea and a very well-respected QC who was appointed to represent me at the hearing.  Another two experts were also appointed to conduct reports in preparation for the hearing.  The HCPC has guidelines and standards about times of hearings etc but mine took ages – well over a year.  This year was hell, and I don’t use that word lightly: I couldn’t apply for jobs as I had to declare the ongoing investigation which precluded me from most.  I was stressed about it, I lost sleep, remained anxious at any letter coming – in fact I remember receiving a letter from the HCPC to which I had a full-blown panic attack, and all it contained was arbitrary information about some changes they were making.  I lost so much confidence in my ability, and I was so worried about receiving another FtP issue.  I felt I was an awful clinician, that I would lose my job and that my life was essentially over.

By this time, I had got to know Andrea quite well, and she me.  I felt that she was personally invested in helping me professionally.  I genuinely felt like she wanted to do her best, not for anything other than because she cared.  This meant a huge amount to me and something for which I’ll always be grateful.  Both Andrea and the QC were very honest and upfront about potential outcomes and what would be reasonable etc and so I was never left in any doubt as to what was at stake – this is important for helping come to terms with it.

Eventually the hearing date came about, over 12 months following the Investigation Committee meeting.  By this time, I was quite looking forward to it: I just wanted it done and dusted so whatever happened I could move on with my life.  In the meantime, I had continued my work as a paramedic and obtained several commendations, so I knew that in any case I had done my best.  Every time I got frustrated at a late finish or something, I reminded myself that my job, my vocation was in jeopardy and I should be thankful that I could do it.

The hearing itself was extremely well organised and I cannot fault the HCPC in any way.  It was impeccable and fairly run.  Everyone was polite and the HCPC’s Presenting Officer was fair and decent in the way she presented her case.  The hearing was scheduled for three days but lasted for only two as the panel decided the allegation was not well founded.  This was a HUGE relief and something I’m still coming to terms with – over two years of stress had been resolved.

I cannot express in words how grateful I am to the College of Paramedics and to Andrea and her team at Knights 1759 who worked tirelessly to bring me the outcome I felt was warranted.  It would not have been possible had it not been for my membership of the College of Paramedics as the total fees I believe were likely in the region of £20,000 from start to finish.  I genuinely cannot imagine going through the process I’ve gone through without that professional support. 

I still get nervous when the Royal Mail van arrives outside my house, and any letter or email from the HCPC sends me panicking – it probably will for a while yet.  I still lack confidence in my practice and worry about decisions I’ve made long after I’ve made them.  The effects from my experience will stay with me forever, but I’m thankful that I’ve had them.  The experience with the HCPC has been mixed in that I felt ignored and presumed guilty from the outset, but from the Investigation Committee result onwards I can’t fault them.

I wanted to write this for many reasons:
1.    To express thanks and gratitude to the team of professionals who helped me, and to thank my colleagues and friends who submitted wonderful references;
2.    To try and offer some support to paramedic colleagues who may be going through the FtP process;
3.    To try and give more information about the hearing itself as to what happens, to provide reassurance;
4.    To urge every paramedic who reads this to join the College, if not already done so.  It is absolutely worth the £9.00 monthly fee, if only for the FtP insurance.  

The support I received far exceeded expectations.  The College were wonderful in dealing with my initial enquiry and the process felt built to help and support me.  We as a profession need to support one another and can only do this with the strength of one voice provided by the College of Paramedics.

Click here to join the College of Paramedics

Read the Blog: 10 Things you should know if a concern is raised about your fitness to practise

10 Things you should know if a concern is raised about your fitness to practise

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) provides a list of 10 important things you should know about the process and the support available if you find yourself the subject of a fitness to practise allegation.

23/02/2017

 

1. The fitness to practise (FtP) process is not designed to punish registrants for past mistakes.

Rather, the process is designed to protect the public from those who are not fit to practise. Finding that a registrant’s fitness to practise is ‘impaired’ means that there are concerns about their ability to practise safely and effectively. In 2015-16, only 1.07 per cent of paramedics were subject to an FtP concern; a very small percentage, indicating that the vast majority of registrants are practising safely and effectively.
 
2. What do we do when we receive a concern about a professional on our register?

We consider each concern individually to decide whether it meets the standards of acceptance. This is the level a concern about a registrant must meet before we will investigate it as a fitness to practise allegation. We may make further enquiries to help us make this decision. If we find that a concern does not meet the standards of acceptance, we will close the case and take no further action. In 2015-16, of the 239 concerns raised about paramedics, 162 cases were closed because they did not meet the standards of acceptance.

3. Your case will be allocated to a case manager.

If the standards of acceptance are met, and you find yourself the subject of a fitness to practise allegation, the case will be allocated to a case manager, who will remain neutral. They can explain how the FtP process works and what panels will consider when making their decisions. However they cannot advise you what to include in your response or how you should represent yourself.

4. We will give you an idea of how long our enquiries will take.

We understand that it can be stressful when an FtP concern is raised, and we will provide you with an idea of how long our enquiries will take at each stage of the process.

5. You can respond to the allegation in writing within 28 days. It is important to engage with the process so that you can give your side of events.

Once we have all the information we need, we will write to you with full details of the allegation that has been made plus copies of the documents we have collated. You are then invited to respond in writing within 28 days. If you need more time, your case manager can offer a 28-day extension, and if further time is required you can make a written application to the panel. 

6. You may find it helpful to get advice from your professional body, The College of Paramedics, your union, or a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.

They will be able to provide advice on what to include in the response to the allegations which will be provided to the Investigating Committee Panel.

7. You are entitled to be represented throughout the process.

If the case is referred to a hearing, registrants are entitled to be represented, or can represent themselves, throughout the process. Information and guidance on the fitness to practise hearing process is available on our website, and explained in this useful YouTube video.

8. Cases are scheduled up to four months before the actual hearing.

We try to give registrants at least 60 days’ notice of the hearing date. We will also give you the material that we plan to rely on at the hearing 42 days beforehand. We ask registrants to provide their material 28 days before the hearing date.

9. Details of the hearing and allegations are published four weeks before the hearing is due to start.

We put this information on our website as the hearings are held in public. We do not put the information on the website more than four weeks before the hearing date to make sure we are acting fairly and balancing your rights with our role of protecting the public.

10.  What are the possible outcomes of a final hearing?

If a registrant’s fitness to practise is found to be impaired, the final hearing panel will decide whether a sanction should be imposed. They may take no further action; caution the registrant; make conditions of practice that the registrant must work under; suspend the registrant from practising; or strike their name from our Register. Before making their decision, the panel will carefully consider the circumstances of each case and take into account all that has been said in the hearing. It is important to remember that the purpose is to protect the public and not punish registrants.

For more information about the FTP process download our brochure ‘What happens if a concern is raised about me?’ or visit our dedicated FTP pages http://www.hcpc-uk.org/complaints/resources/

Further information about the work we do in considering allegations about the fitness to practise of our registrants can be found in our Fitness to practise annual reports http://www.hcpc-uk.org/publications/reports/

Author
HCPC

Stress in the sector: A member’s perspective

Adrian McGrath MCPara from Northern Ireland discusses perceptions of stress in the current paramedic role

23/01/2017

 

My dream was to be a paramedic back then, in those days we lifted stretchers into ambulances as the troubles in Northern Ireland alerted my colleagues to something gut wrenching minutes away. Where casualty departments inspired me as I saw consultants and young doctors being taught and managing in a timely fashion the sick trauma or medical patient that had just came through the door. Inspiration is a little harder to come by these days in that context. I achieved one of my dreams and I've probably grown, matured and absorbed what I could over the years. Currently, stress has a strong penumbral edge to it, as the wide measure of society and its illnesses and those increasing accidents of life demand our skills and energy on a much larger scale than what was needed in the past, with fewer resources. So where do we (I) go from here?

Personally, stress can subtly tease out the unseen good or hidden ability in us, where that propensity to overcome and to adapt to unforeseen situations (or delayed time) on scene enhances one’s ability to cope. However, that said, there’s a fine line in that sticky medicine of service and self-balance, whilst caring for another in that acute phase of trauma or illness. To be your best you have to feel your best. This only comes from re-energisation of the self with careful gentleness in how you approach the busy mind, the mind which most likely has seen something nasty, as the sensory and visual response post-shift kicks in. This is a necessary quality we must fulfil and master, in order to live a long, mentally healthy and purposeful life, whilst we work on that escalator of fuelled adrenaline at times! I've considered a complete alternative to this new era and changing face of the pre-hospital world I inhabit...thou that is yet to be decided! However, there is something honest and pure in being able to help another in their hour of need...so time will be my judge on that decision.

There is no quick fix here, the system is fractured and continually fracturing; and like any spiral fracture it can take a long while to heal itself, but undoubtedly it leaves its mark and weakness creating a fissure upon the system. My colleagues, who I admire give 100% everyday as they travel the highways and byways carrying out life-saving procedures at times whilst on route to hospital, whilst interacting with that multidisciplinary team of professionals we encounter each day; for that one, or perhaps multiple casualties we have to treat on the roadside, or in the various communities that we are invited into. The system is impinging on us and our response, in my opinion, is that we must be more visceral in how we react to this demand upon our physical wellbeing; and to recognise when we need to nourish the body as well as the soul, through our shared experiences, recognising when we need genuine time out. In order to carry on providing that cutting edge professionalism we offer to our patients.

We've got to try to hinder ourselves from becoming attached to that second victim syndrome, through that loading dose of stress which may be unresolved from previous calls, due to demand, or from re-living a terrible incident, where perhaps lethargy, mental fatigue or negative self-worth spirals our thought processes in these difficult, challenging and demanding times that we find currently ourselves in.

Maybe the periscope with how I see the world may need a new optic to recast and renew a fresh inspiration for me, as this New Year offers me its blank canvas of invitation and surprise. Other crises when one looks back into the history of turbulent times, would perhaps suggest at that time they also had to deal with such challenging structures of change in their communities, in accessing their necessary social or health needs; for life is merely passing through us and the only inherent gift we all have is to be resilient and kind towards our toughest challenges, to meet and filter stress with a fresh objective whilst we look after ourselves and each other, the best we can in these challenging times...

I don't want to lose any of my colleagues to terminal burnout or something even worse…

Author
Adrian McGrath MCPara, Paramedic, Northern Ireland

HCPC Hearing: A member’s perspective

A member of the College of Paramedics shares their experience of receiving a letter from the HCPC.

07/12/2016

In 2015 I made one of the best decisions of my career when I joined the College of Paramedics. If you’re not already a member, I urge you to do the same; you never know when you might need them.

I became a paramedic in 1996 after a distinguished career in the army. My 20 years’ experience includes specialised training, mentoring, and leadership roles with organisations as diverse as the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service and the London Ambulance Service. I’m also a previous winner of the Allied Health Professional Worker of the Year Award. 

As a paramedic, you dread the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) envelope dropping onto the doormat, especially when it’s not renewal time.

I remember it vividly. It was a bright and sunny morning when it came through, the gleam of the white envelope imprinted with the HCPC logo stood out on my dark and dusty doormat.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, ‘hmmm HCPC’ I thought, ‘what do they want from me?’

I carefully peeled back the envelope and withdrew the letter. As I slowly read through I realised my worst fears had come true, it was a complaint about my fitness to practise.

The wording of the letter I found quite petrifying; terms and phrases that were alien to me that I found quite intimidating given the situation in which I now found myself. I felt extremely vulnerable and quickly formed the impression that I had a guilty verdict hanging over me without even having been able to put my side of the story. What felt worse was it appeared they’d taken months to prepare the case and I had only seven days to respond.

As I took a step back, the magnitude of the accusation dawned on me. This one thing could ruin my career, which would also have a devastating effect on my family.

I sat on the bottom of my stairs, with my head in my hands wondering what on earth I should do next – ‘Where do I start? How do I start?’

As I sat there contemplating life, I remembered as a member of the College of Paramedics I receive fitness to practise insurance as part of my full membership.

I nervously picked up the phone and made the call to the College and was greeted with a supportive and sympathetic ear at the end of the phone who quickly calmed me down. I was advised to call the insurance company to lodge my issue. I called them straight away and again, I was greeted by a very friendly and supportive person. Whilst on the phone they sent me a simple form to fill in via email, which I sent straight back. I soon received a phone call from the legal team providing excellent advice and reassuring me that they would handle everything. Their first job was to contact the HCPC with a strongly worded letter for an extension to the time-frame they had given me to respond, which in their opinion as well as mine, was unreasonable. They also informed the HCPC that they would be handling my case, which took a huge weight off my mind.

I was given a list of things they required and a number at which they could be contacted on. This number was always answered, I was never fobbed off and if in a meeting they always called me back.

Both the solicitors and the College were excellent in providing support and guidance and keeping me informed at every step of the way. The solicitor put everything together and assured me that my case wouldn't even go to a hearing, they were surprised it had even got this far.

The file was duly sent and only four days later we received a reply of ‘no case to answer’. This was great, however, the whole process had taken eight months to conclude. The College and the solicitor were fantastic. I cannot thank them enough. For less than £10 a month, the support I received was second to none and I would strongly advise any paramedic to join the College, not just for the insurance but for the support of having someone at the end of a phone.
 
The views expressed in this article are made by a member of the College of Paramedics. 

 
Disclaimer
The opinions expressed by the various contributors are not necessarily those of the College of Paramedics. The inclusion of a blog does not necessarily imply recommendation of its aims, policies or methods. The College of Paramedics will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information.