"Homelessness and the ambulance service"

About: West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust / Emergency ambulance

(as a friend),

I am a student at Coventry University and was driving out of Coventry to go home on earlier in March. As I pulled up to the traffic lights, I could see a man lying on the floor looking very unwell and he was obviously homeless but very sick, and looked like he was crying. I was heartbroken by the number of people walking past, ignoring him (some even a stepping on him and his few belongings) that I turned my car around at the next opportunity and drove back to him. On approaching him my fears were confirmed, his skin was blue and his breathing shallow, he was absolutely freezing and shaking very violently. I gently asked if he was ok and he said that he wasn't and was feeling very unwell. I could tell the gentleman had consumed some alcohol but the state of his breathing, pain in his chest and sound of his coughing gave me real cause for concern especially when he said he had coughed up blood, his symptoms were far more serious than simply being alcohol related. When I suggested I called for medical assistance he was tearful and very grateful, and I tried to reassure him as much as I could. However when I spoke to the ambulance dispatcher she said he was likely to be an alcoholic and therefore I had to be confident he could answer me truthfully. I was slightly taken a back but repeated all the questions to the gentleman who while upset and slightly slurred answered them all, revealing that he suffers with COPD. I felt I had to really convince the dispatcher of his worth as a patient, which realistically I wouldn't have been required to do if I had found a young woman in the same position for example. The ambulance arrived relatively quickly and I waved them down, they parked, near to where we were. As soon as they both got out of the van the situation became very hostile, their expressions and language very much left me with the feeling that they considered this a waste of their time. I explained the situation to the paramedics, who went over to the gentleman to find out more information and get him into the ambulance. However the paramedic kept claiming they couldn't understand what the homeless man was saying, despite me very clearly being able to hear that the homeless gentleman was asking them to help him up. When I explained this to the paramedic I was scoffed at, but they began to get the man onto his feet. He was really struggling to get up as his shortness of breath had left him dizzy, and when he said he really didn't think he could walk to the doors, the paramedic replied with "well you have managed to walk to the off licence and we're busy people so get a move on now mate". I recoiled in horror at the comment, while yes the man had clearly had a drink, the symptoms he was displaying were of genuine medical concern and I again wondered if I had been in his shoes, whether they would have forced me to walk or taken me seriously. While I was glad to see the man safely into the ambulance, I was disappointed that the paramedics had to be reminded to take his only belongings with them too. Once I knew the man was safe I walked back to my car and burst into tears...I was truly devastated by the way this man had been treated from start to finish, and dreaded to think of the way he would be continued to be spoken to in the ambulance. Irrespective of his homelessness, he deserved to receive the same service I would if I had been lying by the side of the road blue in the face - and he simply didn't get it. I am so disappointed in the behaviour of those paramedics who claimed they couldn't understand him when I had spent 20 minutes having a completely understandable conversation with him, and then spoke to him like he wasn't worth their time. We're all humans, and when in medical need should all be treated the same - I truly am heartbroken by the appalling behaviour of the staff who are meant to 'care' for us. As this man can't speak up for himself, I intend to do it until we get the response he deserves.

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Responses

Response from Regional Head of Patient Experience, West Midlands Ambulance Service

Dear MGanley (as a friend),

I am sorry to hear of your recent experience with the ambulance service, in order to investigate this incident we will need to obtain some further information and I would be grateful if you would consider contacting the Patient Experience Team on telephone number 01384 246366 or via email at pals@wmas.nhs.uk.

Many thanks

Marie

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