Should Paramedics Work on Their Own in Difficult Situations?


This past week, the Mail Online reported how a patient died after a lone working paramedic refused to enter the property on her own, fearing for her own safety.

Anthony Offord, 35, collapsed shortly arriving at his friend’s home in Sheffield in April last year and began ‘coughing’ on the floor.

A lone female Yorkshire Ambulance Service paramedic arrived at the scene five minutes later, but waited outside the building for 20 minutes until other paramedics arrived.

The article, which can be read in its entirety here, raises many issues about lone working and personal safety. Was the paramedic within her rights to refuse to enter the property on personal safety grounds?

What we do know is that the paramedic, working alone, was called to a halfway house in Sheffield at around 11pm, where the patient, suffering from mental health issues had taken a lethal mix of heroin and alcohol. The paramedic felt uncertain about entering the property alone after hearing ‘shouting’ and ‘agitated’ male voices. It was also known that the address was flagged as having previous problems regarding aggressive behaviour towards the emergency services.

While some comments left by readers of the article were quick to deride the decision by the medic, others pointed out that it’s wrong to “expect a single female ambulance paramedic to go in to a house with a drunk heroin addict when there is conflict apparent.” Another commenter describes how her sister is a paramedic, “and the abuse and violence she has experienced, is just disgusting. These guys do a fantastic job. Through no fault of their own, they deal with difficult situations, often on a daily basis.”

Shockingly, even though paramedics are there to help treat the sick and injured, assaults on staff are commonplace. For instance, The London Ambulance Service reported 582 attacks on Ambulance crews in 2013 – a 23% year-on-year rise. Often, these figures do not take into account verbal abuse, threats or even being spat upon.

In his excellent book, Blood, Sweat and Tea – an insight by Paramedic Tom Reynolds into the stresses and strains of working for an Ambulance service, Tom writes about the daily perils faced by his crew. Throughout the book, Tom tells of being assaulted multiple times, often unprovoked. It’s a harrowing, real life tale which tells much more than cold statistics.

Why Was the Paramedic Working Alone?

Whilst the focus is primarily on the decision made by the lone worker to not enter the property, wider questions are raised. Why was this female paramedic working alone in the first place?

The inquest, held at Sheffield Coroner’s Court, herd that Yorkshire Ambulance Service was ‘under resourced’ at the time of the patient’s death.

Is it right that a female, or indeed male paramedic should be put in a position to have to make these ‘literal life and death’ judgement calls? Have NHS cuts forced some Ambulance Services to have single manned crews? What can be done to help protect Ambulance crews when faced with dangerous scenarios such as the one played out in Sheffield?

As one highly rated comment on the Mail’s website states; “When paramedics train, it’s with the intention to provide an emergency response to emergency situations. However, they are also human beings and it should not be expected that they put their lives or safety at risk.