The London Ambulance Service marked its 50th anniversary today by showcasing huge advances in medical care – as one of its first drivers admitted many lives were lost because staff had little medical training.
Mark Bailey, 76, recalled working during the infancy of the service, when suited drivers and attendants with only basic first aid skills were required to “scoop and run” with patients to the nearest hospital.
Now university-educated paramedics are able to diagnose heart attacks, shock cardiac arrest patients back to life and can administer up to 30 different drugs – meaning many patients are treated at the scene.
“Years ago the training we had was minimal,” Mr Bailey said. “We were always aware, doing the job, that we needed more training than we got. We knew that we lost patients that could otherwise have been saved if we had the equipment.
“These modern ambulances are like miniature hospitals on wheels. It’s a far superior service now than the one in our day.”
Mr Bailey worked for Middlesex ambulance service prior to it becoming one of nine county services that merged to form the London Ambulance Service.
He recalled helping Spurs legend Dave Mackay, who died last month aged 80, after he broke his leg in a comeback reserve game against Shrewsbury Town in September 1964.
Mr Bailey said: “He broke his leg playing football at the Spurs football ground. We had the job of taking him home. By the time we arrived at the Prince of Wales hospital in Tottenham, all the Press was all around. They took lots of photographs.
“They appeared in all the Sunday newspapers but for one – the News of the World. I would have loved to have my picture in the News of the World – I could have dined out on that for years.”
The 1965 Morris Wandsworth ambulance used by Mr Bailey was equipped with just a stretcher, a splint, bandages, oxygen and carbon dioxide – used to “trick” the brain into kickstarting the lungs of a patient who had stopped breathing.
The 2015 Mercedes Sprinter ambulances have defibrillators to restart patients’ hearts and ECG machines to detect heart attacks. Crews are trusted to make “life or death” decisions on when to take patients to specialist trauma, stroke and cardiac hospitals.
LAS interim chief executive Fionna Moore said: “The kit, the drugs and the way we treat patients has changed beyond recognition. What has not changed is that people still come into the ambulance service because they’re committed to delivering high-quality care.”