The comments on my post about swine flu have been really eyeopening. There were one or two that made me angry and think “this commenter is PRECISELY the sort of person who ignores the advice in the media and thinks they are entitled to abuse the 999 service” but mainly I saw people who were terrified of getting swine flu and worried that their GP service won’t be able to do enough if they do. For a couple of commenters, these fears had become a reality as they or a relative had caught swine flu, and not all were satisfied with the service they’d received from GPs etc. For those people, 999 had become an option because they felt they had nowhere else to turn. This is still a misuse of the service, but it’s one borne out of fear and caring, not selfishness and entitlement. I understand this – I’m terrified of getting it too, not because of being ill but because I’m worried how we will cope at work if half the Control staff are off sick. We’re already in isolation (no visitors in the room, even ambulance crews) and being asked to spray ourselves and the equipment with various noxious antiseptics. I do think people are panicking unnecessarily because the number of deaths is tiny, and normal flu can kill too, but the media circus is mainly to blame for that.
Just to clarify, when I said we should be turning people with swine flu away, I did NOT mean people who are seriously ill. High risk groups and anyone with life threatening symptoms would never get turned away if I were making the rules. The people who WOULD get turned away are people who haven’t bothered ringing their GP, haven’t bothered taking medication for their symptoms, who feel they should never be ill and that we should be able to provide a quick fix. People with mild symptoms who just want to get a diagnosis of swine flu. Healthy 20-somethings who can open the door to the ambulance crew. I think that those of you who go by the book and only call us out as a last resort really have NO IDEA of the number of people who misuse the service or the frustration of crews and control staff.
One paramedic rang me yesterday at the end of his tether.
“This is the fourth case of mild, non life threatening swine flu I’ve been to today!” he lamented as he gave me the details to arrange a GP, just as the patient should have done for himself. “I am so going to catch it. But it’s not me I am worried about – I have a baby, a toddler and a pregnant wife. They’re all in high risk groups.”
“I know,” I said. “It frustrates me as well, but what can we do? We have to send.”
“I’ll put that on my baby’s gravestone, shall I?” huffed the paramedic. “Sorry, I know it’s not your fault. But please try and send me to something else next!”
Fortunately, the new swine flu centres and hotline should be operational very soon, so we won’t have to send ambulances to swine flu patients unless they really need them.