The way we work: Rich Monton,
Dan Farnworth

Two paramedics reveal what it takes to be out on the road with Blackpool's emergency services. Interview: Saskia Murphy

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Rich Monton: There were a couple of influences on my choice of career. My mother was a nurse, so I’ve always had a healthcare background, but a great deal of influence came when I had to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital from being six months old until the age of 18. I had 45 operations throughout my childhood due to a rare condition called bladder exstrophy. I was born with my urinary tract outside my abdomen, so it was put back in but then complications occurred with reduced kidney function, kidney stones and infections. I had a lot of reconstructive surgery on my kidneys. It sounds soppy but I saw the other side of it as a patient after being in an ambulance and going to hospital a lot as a kid. I was interested in the medical side of things from being a young child. I didn’t particularly want to be in a hospital for my career because I’d been in and out of hospital as a kid, so I looked into being a paramedic because I thought I could still be part of it, but the majority of the time you’re out on the road and dipping in and out of hospitals. It’s quite an exciting career really.

Dan Farnworth: I’ve always wanted to be in the emergency services. I wasn’t really specific about which one – I just knew I wanted to help people. But after leaving school with reasonable qualifications I started working in call centres and I applied for a job working in the ambulance control room answering 999 calls. Off the back of that I spent a short time dispatching the air ambulance and eventually I applied for a job as an emergency medical technician. I’ve been on the road since 2010.

Monton: When I found out I’d got a job in Blackpool I was a bit taken aback because I knew how busy it was, especially with the nightlife. But I was also quite excited because the Fylde is a very forward-thinking part of the North West ambulance service. It’s very proactive and we like to try out new procedures, new protocols and new equipment. In Blackpool you get exposed to certain situations that you might not in other parts of Lancashire. It’s such a diverse area. You can go to one callout where you’re speaking to someone who might have just fallen and the next job you go to could be someone who might have overdosed on heroin. On a typical day we arrive at work at 6.45am and start at 7am, but before 7am we go out to our vehicle and we do a 10-minute red response check. We have to check that the equipment is in working order and the ambulance itself is in working order. It’s not just all about what’s inside the ambulance; it’s about how it drives. You can guarantee that we’re out onto an emergency call straight away, and that could be anything. We go to the call, whether it’s someone’s house, outside or in a surgery, and assess what the patient is like when we get there.

Rich and I are together all the time. Colleagues are there for you to laugh and cry

Farnworth: The main challenge of the job is that it’s getting busier and busier and it’s becoming more difficult to chase ourselves. We spend all day chasing our tails and we get very few breaks because we need to be out there on the road helping people. The sheer demand upon the service is the main pressure we’re under. The best part of my job is my colleagues. Rich and I are together all the time. Colleagues are there for you to laugh and cry. They’re there for you through thick and thin. They know what you’re going through on the job; they’re the only people who understand what we go through on a day-to-day basis. In the ambulance service we haven’t suffered the brunt of the cuts. However there is a knock-on effect whereby they’ve closed the rehabilitation centres in our local community, and the fact that they’ve closed the rehabilitation centres means the hospital can’t release patients because they’re not quite ready for discharge, so then you’ve got patients arriving at A&E, but they can’t go to the ward because there are no beds, so that means when we arrive at A&E we can’t get in. So we feel the consequences of the knock-on effect even though there haven’t been any direct cuts on us. I’d invite ministers to come and spend a day with us in Blackpool – I think they would be surprised. Coping with the demand is very difficult. Sometimes it’s difficult to go home when there are jobs waiting. A shift should be 12 hours but we’re normally there for 13-14 hours.

Monton: Another thing that’s changed is that 10-15 years ago you’d be able to have a little bit of time in between emergencies where you could try and relax, but it’s just so busy nowadays that the majority of the time it’s just job after job after job. We’re guaranteed a 30-minute lunch break, but that can be eight hours into the shift, and we do potentially have another 20-minute break, but sometimes it’s too busy for that. Because we’re living in a 24/7 society people expect a quick fix for a lot of things. We go to see some people who have only had one or two bouts of vomiting and they want it to be fixed straight away – they don’t understand that it could be a virus that they need to just let ride out of their system. Binge drinking is another big issue when it comes to the health service. Mental wellbeing also encompasses quite a large part of our job. It is a big issue out there and we need to get more people talking about mental health. I think if there was more education about mental health we would possibly get less calls. There are a lot of people out there who feel lonely because people don’t understand their condition. They’re not getting the support from their family and friends, and I think if we could educate society more about mental health it would affect the ambulance service’s workload.

Before I became affected by PTSD I thought I was infallible

Farnworth: A couple of years ago we went out onto a job where a child died, and after the incident I started having flashbacks and nightmares. I kept reliving it over and over again. I was withdrawn at work. I wasn’t talking to anyone. I was withdrawn from my family. I just wasn’t myself. I realised I had a problem and I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by a counsellor and was signed off work for four months. Around that time the mental health charity Mind had been given some money by the government to investigate mental health in the emergency services. Research found that one in four emergency services staff will consider committing suicide at some point in their career. It’s a massive number. I realised it wasn’t just me who had the problem, but thankfully I’d received a diagnosis. Off the back of it I realised that a lot of people in the emergency services suffer from this problem, but maybe it’s just not being picked up. There is also a bit of a stigma within the emergency services – how can we have a problem when it’s our job to help people? I decided to use my own experiences to try and educate my colleagues and raise awareness across the country. Before I became affected I thought I was infallible. I never thought I could suffer like that – I thought I was as tough as an old boot. I want to let people know that it’s OK to have PTSD or any other mental health problem and it’s OK to talk. I am very passionate about it.

Monton: When I first heard Dan’s story I was gobsmacked. When we leave work at the end of the day we physically leave the job behind, but unlike other jobs out there, mentally you don’t.

Farnworth: We’ve developed the Blue Light Walk and we want people to get involved. We are going to walk from Scarborough RNLI to Blackpool RNLI over six days and the money raised will go to the Blue Light programme, which is a scheme ran by Mind. The aim is to support staff in the emergency services. Recently we’ve introduced a scheme that supports staff after traumatic incidents. We’ve introduced line manager awareness, and that’s all off the back of what we’ve done with the Blue Light Walk.

For more information on the Blue Light Walk, or to make a donation visit bluelightwalk.com. Photo of Dan Farnworth and Rich Monton by Rebecca Lupton

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Dan Farnworth

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