London Ambulance Service is reviewing the way it responds to terror attacks after police advice to “run, hide, tell” meant some casualties were difficult to find.
A number of people caught up in the London Bridge attacks were so well “barricaded” into hiding places in Borough Market that it took some time before they were found and given medical treatment.
Ambulance chiefs said they fully supported the “run, hide, tell” advice but first-response medics are being reminded that not all casualties may be easily found after a terrorist incident.
Eight people died at London Bridge and 48 casualties, including 28 needing immediate care, were taken to hospital. A total of 97 LAS staff and 63 vehicles were deployed. Police shot dead the three terrorists.
LAS chief executive Garrett Emmerson, in a presentation to the Royal Society of Medicine, said: “Run/hide/tell (the national police guidance) made the tracking of some casualties complex.”
Paul Woodrow, LAS director of operations, told the LAS board: “People did hide and they hid very well. Some of them were hidden with injuries. For us to get to them, it took longer than possibly it could [under normal circumstances].
“A lot of people barricaded themselves in different parts of the building. We are taking up with the Met police around what we might do with that.”
The LAS recently published an internal review of its response to the Westminster Bridge terror attack in March, the London Bridge attacks and Grenfell Tower fire in June and the Croydon tram crash last November, in a bid to learn lessons in the way it responds to future events.
Both Westminster Bridge and London Bridge were initially logged as road traffic incidents. A new system has been devised to identify such calls, which spark a large number of 999 calls, to prevent automatically dispatching crews into potentially dangerous areas. This was used in the Parsons Green Tube explosion last month.
Mr Woodrow said: “The difficult is that the initial calls have come in as something different. London Bridge wasn’t a firearms event. The only people that discharged weapons were the police, to neutralise the threat. But very quickly London Bridge developed into something more than a road traffic incident.
“With Parsons Green, automatic dispatch was switched off almost immediately. The majority of our resources that were sent to that were sent to a different rendezvous point. They were drawn in as they were required. That is the quickest thing we can do to protect our staff.”
The cumulative impact on LAS staff in dealing with the succession of major incidents has been “unprecedented”, with 1,000 undergoing post-traumatic assessments.
Those affected included not just front-line responders but, in relation to the Grenfell Tower fire, staff who had seen bodies being removed and data handlers who had been required to transcribe the desperate 999 calls made by residents as they begged to be rescued.
Mr Emmerson said: “We have been repeatedly tested over the last 10 months. Our response was fast, effective and saved many lives.”
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: “Police guidance to ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ in the event of a gun or knife terror attack was developed by experts at the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, and is known to save lives.
“The ‘Hide until found’ element of the advice was developed with the Armed Police response in mind, and prevents putting innocent people in the path of armed officers who are there to neutralise the threat and make the area safe.
“Only once armed officers have made that area safe will paramedics be allowed access to injured people, and officers are able to do that most effectively when the public follows our safety advice. So ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ is far more likely to save your life, than put it at risk.”