An advanced paramedic dealing with some of the most critically ill patients in London today told how he had to cope with death on virtually every shift.
Dan Davis, 42, told how his specialist role meant his day was spent attempting to save people in cardiac arrest, or attending shootings, stabbings and suicide attempts.
He said he survived the extraordinary challenges of his job – seen by millions of viewers last night on a BBC1 documentary on the London Ambulance Service – by cycling home to unwind.
“The average paramedic attends three to six cardiac arrests a year,” he said. “In two years I have attended in excess of 260. I can do two to three cardiac arrests per shift.
“By the very nature of what I do, there is every chance that I’m going to pronounce someone dead once every shift. It has now become the norm for me.
“You build up a level of resilience that you don’t become too attached to that individual because the next call is inevitably going to be just as critical as the one I have just attended.”
Mr Davis, a former PE teacher and semi-professional rugby player, joined LAS 12 years ago. Two years ago he was among the first dozen of its paramedics to receive training to become advanced paramedics. He also does shifts with London’s Air Ambulance.
He told the Standard: “Since becoming an advanced paramedic, you only attend calls that require critical care. It’s a different mindset.
“I probably do slightly fewer jobs during the day, but the jobs I’m doing are far more involved. I have become accustomed to it [pronouncing patients dead]. It’s become the norm.
“People say: do you get used to it? I don’t think you should ever get used to that. I have made the choice to become an advanced paramedic. I have got a close group of friends. Most of them are doctors or paramedics and they understand.
“Sometimes you have got to decondition yourself from the day. Sometime you have had a particularly hard day or hard case. Being able to talk about it with someone else is enough. It’s not like an office job. I’m not taking paperwork home with me. My cycle home is quite cathartic. It’s a chance to unwind at the end of a shift.”
The father of two boys said the cases that stuck in his mind were those involving children. He hoped the three-part documentary would show viewers that LAS staff continued to “bust a gut” to provide good care despite a record number of 999 calls and the blow to morale of the service having been placed in special measures by the NHS watchdog last November.
“Hopefully the programme will reflect what is an NHS-wide issue, and that the individual clinicians are still doing the best they possibly can,” he said. “A picture paints 1,000 words. People can see it for themselves on TV and hopefully have a better understanding.”