Chief Ambulance Officer on the Covid lockdown.

Guernsey’s Chief Ambulance Officer has thanked ambulance crews and support staff for their commitment and hard work during the first month of the latest lockdown.

The St John Emergency Ambulance Service responded quickly to the changing circumstances on 23rd January, activating parts of our business continuity and preparedness plans. Since the start of the lockdown the service has experienced several periods of high demand, with up to twice the normal number of calls responded to on some days.

Mark Mapp said: “We always knew there was a risk that the coronavirus could return to Guernsey with community seeding. As the emergency ambulance service, we, like colleagues in other health and government departments, were prepared for another wave and another lockdown. We had plans in place and this time around we had the added bonus of not only our experience of the first lockdown last Spring, but also the benefit of being able to share knowledge and experience from ambulance services in other jurisdictions.”

“Since the start of the pandemic last year I have been in regular contact with the Chief Ambulance Officers of Jersey, the Isle of Man, Gibraltar and the Isle of Wight, all of which work in similar environments and face similar challenges. The collaboration has been extremely positive and has allowed all of us to learn from each other. This has meant that despite being a small service, with no neighbouring counties to call upon for support, we have been able to demonstrate a high level of resilience. It is one of a number of factors that have meant Guernsey’s Emergency Ambulance Service has coped well.”

In response to the lockdown ambulance crews were split across three sites to minimise mixing of crews and help ensure social distancing. Crews were also buddied with the same crewmate for the entire block of shifts to reduce the risk of a whole team becoming infected or having to isolate if one person developed symptoms. For a brief period around 22% of operational staff were isolating, although due to the way shifts work this had minimal impact of daily staffing levels, which have remained good throughout the lockdown.

“I would like to thank the whole team for their flexibility and adaptability. The ambulance crews who have been on the front line, often working long hours and sometimes being called back into work to provide extra resilience during times of exceptional demand, have played a vital part in the island’s response to the pandemic. The clinicians have had the added challenge of having to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for long periods of time, sometimes in stressful situations.”

The Emergency Ambulance Service has been busier than usual, with several periods of high demand and longer job cycle times during the past month. On two occasions the service saw 100% increase in daily demand. There have also been a number of other days where demand has been significantly up, including two days where the number of calls increased by more than 85% on the norm.

“Although the winter months can be busier, the demand we have seen over the past four weeks is unprecedented, however despite the periods of high demand the quality of the service has not suffered. We have maintained an excellent standard of care for patients and response times for life threatening calls and those assessed to require a blue light response have remained good. The system used by the JESCC call takers means that the urgency of each case can be assessed quickly and the appropriate response can be sent.”

In addition to the calls for medical cases the Emergency Ambulance Service also undertook the transfer of twelve residents from La Grande Lande Residential Home in St Saviours to the PEH following the confirmation of four Covid cases at the home. A team consisting of emergency ambulance clinicians, patient transfer staff, St John volunteers, an Incident Officer and a Senior Officer took part in the day- long operation.

One of the challenges faced by the ambulance service is the finite supply of vehicles. When ambulances have been used to transport patients with possible Covid-19 symptoms they require a deep clean, which takes that vehicle off the road for up to two hours. Normally ambulances are cleaned by the clinical crews, but with higher demand volunteers from the St John decontamination team have stepped in to free up clinicians. During some times of high demand ambulances normally used by the St John Ambulance Guernsey charity have also been used by the frontline professional ambulance crews to respond to medical emergencies.

“I am hugely grateful and indebted to the volunteers from the St John Decontamination Team who have responded to the call day and night to deep clean ambulances after crews have treated potential Covid cases.”

During the lockdown, enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures have been put in place. All non-essential and non-operational staff have been working from home in line with Public Health guidelines.

“The administration staff play a vital and often unseen role behind the scenes, but without their valued input we would not be able to function. Likewise, the Senior Officers and members of the Senior Leadership Team who have often been working remotely and utilising video conferencing for daily briefings as they oversaw strategic and tactical functions.  Video links and other social media platforms have also been used for communicating with the wider team.

Over the past 12 months our partnership with HSC has gone from strength to strength, and in spirit of supporting the HSC target operating model and Partnership of Purpose, paramedics have been undertaking other aspects of healthcare during the Covid response. Paramedics have been on duty monitoring people in the waiting area who have received their vaccination at the Community Vaccination Centre, while other have been administering vaccinations for Public Health. Some paramedics have also been employed in Emergency Department at the PEH.