London Ambulance Service Put Under The Spotlight In New BBC Documentary

Every second can make the difference between life and death

Britain’s largest ambulance service comes under the spotlight in this three part BBC documentary series.

The London Ambulance Service is constantly braced to assist the 8.6million people in the capital when an emergency strikes – and they have just eight minutes to respond.

With the number of calls to the service doubling in the last decade, the nerve centre of the service takes over 5,000 calls a day and has to work out who needs an ambulance the quickest, or whether they need one at all.

The London Ambulance Service responds on average to 28 cardiac arrests each day
The London Ambulance Service responds on average to 28 cardiac arrests each day
Rui Vieira/PA Wire

With unprecedented access to the high-pressured control room, as well as the crews out on the streets, each episode provides an honest 360 degree snapshot of the service.

Last year, the London Ambulance Service became the first 999 trust in England to be put into special measures after the health inspectorate expressed “serious concerns” about the way it might respond to terrorism and other mass-casualty emergencies.

This documentary takes the series beyond the flashing blue light stories, to reveal for the first time the dilemmas faced by those who allocate the ambulance - with only 400 ambulance crews on shift - as they have to bump patients down the queue to prioritise the sickest; the very real and often dangerous impact of time-wasters and frequent callers; and the ever-present threat that a major incident with multiple casualties is just a single 999 call away.

The service receives 5,000 calls a day (file picture)
The service receives 5,000 calls a day (file picture)
Jonathan Brady/PA Archive

An ordinary day for the London Ambulance Service means dozens of car crashes, overdoses, suicide attempts and - statistically - 28 cardiac arrests, where every second can make the difference between life and death.

By 11am, seven cardiac arrests have come in, and now there are two more people fighting for their lives. As one crew battles through London traffic, knowing seconds and minutes can affect the outcome of a father-of-two’s heart attack, across the city another crew face a difficult decision - whether to stop resuscitation of their patient knowing full-well the impact it will have on the family.

The brain of the ambulance service is the control room, and when a number of stabbings, suicide attempts and a double shooting flood the 999 phone lines simultaneously, they threaten to overwhelm the service.

A highly-skilled Advanced Paramedic has barely finished with a double shooting before he’s called to a man who has fallen from a sky scraper. In the control room they’re running short of ambulances and they know the next call could be a major incident needing dozens of crews.

When there’s an unexpected spike in 999 calls far outstripping the number of ambulances available, drastic action has to be taken, and some emergency callers have to be told the ambulance can’t come to them while the service prioritise reaching those in most urgent need who maybe fighting for their lives.

Multiple calls about an explosion in a flat come in, heralding their worst fear, and the whole of the London Ambulance Service now has to step up.

Chief executive Dr Fionna Moore told the Evening Standard: “I think the average viewer will see that we are busy.

“I think it’s also a good opportunity for them to reflect on how best to use the ambulance service, because we will always respond as quickly as we can to life-threatening emergencies.”

Ambulance will air on BBC One on 27 September at 9pm.


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