I say, I say

“I say, I say. My wife’s gone to Northern Italy.”
“Genoa?”
“I should think so, We’ve been married for 20 years.”

Can you remember jokes like this? Harmless and mildly amusing now but if read out by Tommy Cooper they would have the house roaring in laughter?

Let me try one.

“I say. I say. When is a police officer a paramedic?”
“I don’t know. When is a police officer a paramedic?”
“They never are”

As you can see there is much work still needed in my stand up routine. “Don’t give up the day job” I hear you cry.

So what on earth am I on about? Well let’s steer away from the humour and focus on why a cop is never a paramedic.

We know that in recent years, as the orchestrator of the cuts to policing, that Theresa May has come for a bit of a rough ride from the delegates at the National Police Federation Conference. My Gran used to say to me that “manners maketh man and cost nothing”. She was right. Whilst I wholly understood why officers were angry last year, any behaviour that went beyond common decency was not acceptable. However, there were some, Blair Gibbs (Policy Exchange at the time) who tweeted how appalling it was. I sent an email to him about his statements but he never replied. Oddly demonstrating a lack of that which he was trying to advocate by criticising the delegates; manners.

Yesterday, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, addressed the Police Federation Conference. This year, with a change at the helm of the Federation HQ, there was a appeal for dignity and questions asked of her were vetted beforehand. Her reception this year was much better.

During her speech she focused on mental health issues and how police resources are affected. During this she said;

Police officers have many skills, but they are not in a position to be psychiatrists diagnosing and treating mental illness – nor are you meant to be social workers or ambulance drivers.

She also said;

Fourth, police officers should not have to step in to act as ambulance drivers for mentally-ill people. The provision of ambulance services for these emergency cases will be reviewed by the NHS this year.

These statements have caused some considerable upset. My friend @mentalhealthcop has blogged about it here and @diagnosisLOB has also written about it here.

Both are well written20130516-184236.jpg blogs and I endorse the fact that “Paramedic” is a protected title and that referring to such consummate professionals as “ambulance drivers” is demeaning to the skill, expertise and dedication of this fantastic profession.

I do think though that they are both grabbing hold of the wrong end of the stick. Either this or they, are attacking the statements in a “straw that broke the camels back” fashion and feel insulted.

I’ve spent over 20 years in the service as a police officer. I have regularly challenged people and newspapers about using the term police officer when they mean PCSO’S and Police Chief when they mean PCC. They are entirely different. You would therefore expect me to support the two blogs when the professionalism of paramedics is being undervalued?

The Home Sec said that police officers should not be ambulance drivers. She went on to say that police are not Doctors and flagged up a concern officers, and especially custody Sgts, have had for many years. That is that too many mental health cases still end up in the care of the police and not the appropriate medical professionals. Police officers routinely detain s136 cases and convey to hospital. Some force areas are better than others but there are many cases where a responsibility argument ensues that often leads to a mental health case coming to custody. Thanks to @mentalhealthcop and the ACPO Lead Chief Con Simon Cole this situation is getting better. However the Home Sec also points out that there is still a deficiency in health based places of safety. The systems are getting better but we a far from being out of the woods.

Police officers do not have the skills, experience or equipment that paramedics do. We can no more do their job than they ours. The Home Secretary, to my mind, was referring to police officers who are regularly transporting mental health patients around because nobody else will accept responsibility. The only thing we have in common with our paramedic colleagues at this point is that we have a medical case onboard our vehicle and we are driving somewhere. For all intents and purposes, we, the police, on those occasions, are pseudo ambulance drivers. A pale reflection of our esteemed 999 colleagues.

I believe the Home Sec was attaching the phrase to police officers. Not to the professionals who do it daily. It was a criticism of the system that leads to police officers performing a role they shouldn’t be doing. The only function they have in common with paramedics in such cases. Driving people around with medical conditions.

IF the Home Sec had said that police officers are “not meant to be social workers or paramedics” then the argument would be better placed. The fact is she didn’t. She minimised the role and applied it to police officers. This is entirely different to calling police officers paramedics or paramedics ambulance drivers. As it is I suspect there are many social workers, who haven’t spoken up yet to my knowledge, who may be upset that police officers are referred to a such?

It seems to me that this reaction, in isolation, is being misrepresented. However, I suspect my paramedic colleagues are more upset at a term that has been bandied around before and this is the last straw. I can sympathise with this but in the end I do not believe her comment was attributed to them but to us.

I’m not a paramedic. On occasion our roles may overlap but only in an observational sense.

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One thought on “I say, I say”

  1. Great blog – I’ve no doubt there was no intention to deliberately offend; or to minimise the skills, training or importance of paramedics, or for that matter their Tehcnician and Emergency Care colleagues. You’re perfeclty correct in many regards, which is why I chose my words carefully –

    My blog starts by saying that I anticipated there would be a reaction – there was. I then said I could understand why – and I still can. But I then pointed out that this was missing the point (about the importance of paramedics being involved in supporting the police and vice versa). Am I upset or offended? – no: I’m genuinely grateful that someone at that level is talking about it and, I’m told, doing something about it.

    But the remaining thrust of the blog is not about the Home Secretary’s choice of words, but a piece of polemic on the importance of the ambulance service, especially paramedics, in supporting the police when we intervene. And for all the reasons that you acknowledge which are also alluded to in the recent Adebowale Report.

    NHS perceptions about politics at the moment were always going to ensure that “ambulance drivers” under ever-greater pressure because of other ‘service rationalisation’ were going to be upset about her choice of words; and someone like the Home Secretary has various people involved in her speech writing or checking to make sure such own goals are avoided. Great blog though!!

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