Confessions of a paramedic

What should you do if there's an ambulance behind you? What does it take to become a paramedic? And which car makes the best response vehicle? Our tame driver reveals all...

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What Car? team
19 June 2019

Ambulance through the windscreen

PART THREE: THE JOB

How long have you been a paramedic driver?

Five years – but it feels longer.


How did you become a paramedic?

First, I did a three-year Bachelor of Science degree in medical sciences before registering with the Health and Care Professions Council as a specialist paramedic practitioner.


How did the driving side develop?

I had a driving licence, of course, and then I got a C1 licence allowing me to drive an ambulance. I followed that with blue light emergency training.


Blue light emergency training – what does that involve?

It’s actually very stressful and quite a few people fail because they can't handle it. It’s an intensive, five-day course that includes night-time driving. You’re trained to cross red lights and speed safely – all the things you’d expect. They also test your behaviour in a simulated emergency. It’s about pushing you to the limit and seeing how you react.


What personal qualities does your job require?

You see some very upsetting things, obviously, and especially where children are concerned. You have to learn to process and deal with such experiences, rather than bottle them up and let them eat away at you. We’re only human and we get upset just as much as the next person but we can't let our emotions affect our job.


Skoda Octavia Estate ambulances

How much does a paramedic driver earn?

A medically qualified driver is paid on the Band 7 pay scale, which is about £35,000 including a shift allowance.  


Are you based at a central location?

Yes, but we also drive to stand-by points at places such as supermarket car parks where we wait to be called. They’re located at regular intervals to provide good coverage.


Do you have a crew?

In an ambulance, yes, but in a response car, you’re on your own. It’s a big responsibility and, especially at night, there are times when I feel quite vulnerable but you have to accept that’s how it is and get on with it.


How much time are you given to get to an incident?

The target is eight minutes, but that’s from call-out which, depending on demand and how the incident has been prioritised, we may actually come sometime after the incident occurred. It’s why, sometimes, we can appear to be late.

The problem is, people don't realise we’ve only just been called out and driven as fast we can to get to them. They might be on drugs. Some may be from another country where they have no equivalent of the NHS and think they have to pay for an emergency call-out, so resent it when we’re late. We’re there to help but people take their frustration out on us. I’ve been spat at and kicked.

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