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Strategic Head of Resilience Recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Simon Swallow, strategic head of emergency preparedness, resilience and response at the North East Ambulance Service, has been awarded the Queen’s Ambulance Medal in the 2021 Birthday Honour’s list. He is the third recipient of the prestigious honour in the North East region.

The award is presented to acknowledge distinguished service in the ambulance service and is awarded in recognition of the enormous contribution and influence Simon has made in his 35-year career in the ambulance service and NHS.

Chief Executive Helen Ray said: “This is a well-deserved honour and on behalf of the Trust I am delighted that Simon has been recognised for his contribution to the ambulance service and wider NHS.’

“His commitment was evident early in his career when he volunteered to deliver presentations to numerous community organisations to raise awareness and educate the public on the aims of the ambulance service.’

Helen Ray,
Chief Executive,
NEAS

“He still volunteers in NEAS today as a family liaison officer during serious incident investigations. Many have commented to me how Simon often puts his feelings to one side to help and support the patients and their families.”

Simon Swallow, aged 51, is married and lives in Whitley Bay. He has three children. He said: “I am honoured, humbled and proud to have receive this honour. It’s been such a journey working these 35 years in the service and it still feels very special to work here. I enjoy it as much now as I did on my first day.”

Reflecting on his investiture, he added: “I have been involved since 1995 in looking after the Royal family. I’ve always been in the background so it will feel very different to finally meet them when I receive this honour.”

Simon was a cadet in the ambulance service aged 16 and qualified as a paramedic seven years’ later in 1993. He quickly received the appreciation from the Department of Health for his work on the reception, treatment and transportation of the four Bosnian casualties flown in to Newcastle by the RAF.

This later became the Reception Arrangements for Military Patients (RAMP) programme, transporting casualties from abroad to major trauma centres.

Simon has gone on to be involved in numerous multi-agency operations, some high profile, where his experience and skills have made a difference in both caring for patients and protecting the public, including:

  • Operation Hourglass: A pilot scheme which later became the national “booze bus” initiative
  • Operation Ginger: Simon set up the first of its kind partnership with police in North East
  • Raoul Moat manhunt: Ambulance commander during a high-profile week long incident
  • 2012 Olympics: In the North East and as strategic commander supporting London Ambulance Service in the National Olympic Coordination Centre
  • Great North Run: 26 years as a commander to the largest mass-participation event in the UK
  • World Transplant Games: Lead planner for medical cover at all the venues
Simon Swallow,
Strategic Head of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience & Response,
NEAS

In the early 2000s, Simon spent time teaching in Kuwait on behalf of NEAS and remains an advocate for raising awareness and supporting training for Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) contingencies. He was later involved in writing the CBRN manual and training for the CBRN clinical decontamination programme.

Simon went on to lead the early implementation of the Special Operations Response Team and trained 140 NEAS staff in early 2002. Five years later, he was again working alongside the Department of Health and national teams to trial “hot zone” working which later became the Hazardous Area Response Team.

All aspects of police and royalty protection planning and delivery has been led by Simon, including visits of prime ministers, presidents, popes, and monarchs.

Recently, Simon has led on the COVID-19 swabbing, anti-body testing and vaccine programme, working tirelessly to organise clinics and act as a point of contact for all staff and liaising with partners to secure vaccine appointments.

Body Cameras Rolled Out to All North East Stations to Protect Frontline Staff

All frontline ambulance staff at North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) will have access to a body worn camera in a bid to protect them against the rise of incidents of violence and aggression.

All NEAS vehicles are fitted with CCTV cameras, but with two thirds of incidents happening away from a vehicle, the service was keen to protect staff further.

NEAS was the first ambulance service to trial body worn video cameras in 2018 with around 40 members of frontline staff.

Following this trial, the Trust was successful in a funding bid from NHS England to purchase a further 160 cameras last year and has now received funding to purchase a further 200, meaning every ambulance station in the region will now have access to a camera.

So far this year, the service has already recorded 252 violence and aggression incidents, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assault.

Alcohol remains the single largest contributory factor, followed by mental health and drug misuse.

The day or time of the week does not appear to be a factor in assaults, with recent data showing staff are as likely to be attacked on a Tuesday as they are on a Saturday.

Violence and Aggression Incidents Against Staff by Year

1/4/19-31/3/20556
1/4/20-31/3/21634
1/4/21-now114


These incidents include:

Type of incident2019/202020/212021/22 so far
Racist behaviour/abuse/hate related incident222
Intimidating behaviour10514338
Patient lashing out587511
Physical assault11213129
Sexual abuse18154
Verbal abuse14412730

Darren Green, clinical services manager at NEAS, said: “Staff safety is one of our highest priorities; if we are unable to protect our staff, we are unable to provide a service that’s fit for purpose for the public we serve.’

“Nobody comes to work to be abused, but especially not when they are here to help people; often the people abusing them are the very people who called them for help.’

“We’ve all had an incredibly tough year but sadly abuse on our staff has continued to increase, meaning these cameras are needed more than ever.’

“As well as providing evidence to support criminal convictions, the cameras can also often de-escalate a situation, thereby preventing an assault from the taking place in the first place.’

“They also provide staff with a greater confidence when faced with a challenging or risky situation.’

“The availability of body worn cameras for our staff is something that we have championed for a long time and so we are delighted to have led the trial to help implement them nationally.’

“We will continue to work on measures to reduce assaults and liaise with police colleagues to ensure action is taken following any criminal acts against staff or the Trust.  We encourage all valuable NHS colleagues not to tolerate such behaviour.”

Gateshead based paramedic Gary McCaughey, who regularly uses the body cameras on shift, said: “It gives you a little more comfort in the fact that if anything does happen you’re able to record it, but it definitely acts as a deterrent — you can physically see the situation de-escalate when you tell the person you’re activating it.”

Hartlepool-based paramedic Tony Traynor added: “It focuses minds; I’ve warned people that I’m about to turn it on twice and each time they’ve changed their behaviour.’

“A lot of the time it can be a case of he said, she said but the cameras provide that video evidence that they can’t argue against.”

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 allows courts to impose a maximum of 12 months in prison and/or unlimited fine on anyone found guilty of assaulting a police officer, firefighter, prison officer or paramedic. A bill is currently going through Parliament to double this sentence to 24 months.

NEAS successfully campaigned last year as part of the national consultation to double the maximum sentence to two years imprisonment, where it called on courts to use the full powers already available to them to ensure sentencing acts as a deterrent as well as a punishment.

Assaults — both physical and verbal — can have a lasting impact on staff, ranging from marriage breakdowns to leaving the profession altogether.

There is also a wider cost to the service in terms of repairs and time lost to staff sickness. On reviewing just 41 cases between April 2017 and October 2019, the service lost 411 days to staff sickness at a cost of £141,824 in overtime costs to cover missed shifts following an assault.

In addition, the cost of recruiting and training replacements for those staff who have left ranges between £20,000 and £30,000 per person depending on the role and clinical skills needed in the post.  

Footage obtained in the event of an assault or abuse will be admissible as evidence in a court of law.  It will only be used for the purposes of providing evidence to the police in any enquiry intended for the health, safety and protection of staff.

Bubble Screen Creates Additional Protection for Ambulance Volunteers & Patients

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North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has introduced plastic screening for its team of volunteer drivers to help keep them and their patients safe amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

More than 150 people volunteer with NEAS as ambulance car service (ACS) drivers, using their own vehicles to help transport patients to and from hospitals and clinics, which keeps ambulances free for emergencies and for patients too ill to travel by car.

Of those, some are currently shielding until the end of June as part of Government guidance during the Coronavirus epidemic, but a core team of 69 are still volunteering their time to support patients who are still travelling in and out of hospital for life-saving treatment, such as chemotherapy and dialysis.

NEAS Volunteer Bob Pattison shows the bubble screen in use

During the current climate, all drivers are provided with masks, gloves and alcohol gel to keep themselves and their patients safe. However, the Trust has now gone one step further by working with international firm Driver Bubble to introduce plastic screens into volunteers’ cars following a successful trial in May.

Made of durable, flexible PVC plastic, the bubble screen is secured behind the front seats of the vehicle to create a protective shield between the driver and passenger.

A close-up of Bob with the bubble screen

The bubble screen was trialled by 54-year-old ACS driver Bob Pattinson, of Blyth, who began volunteering with NEAS in November 2017 after a career in the military. 

He said: “As well as keeping ourselves safe, we’re trying to do our best to keep patients safe and I think this is a real asset to help us do that. 

“I’ve had some really positive feedback from my patients. One lady told me she had felt quite apprehensive about getting in a car with everything that’s going on but that this really helped put her at ease and made her feel much safer.”

James Fenwick, of Ashington, relies on the ambulance car service three times a week for dialysis treatment at the RVI. He said: “I hadn’t even noticed the screen at first, but it definitely makes you feel safe, it’s a canny idea.”

Deputy Chief Executive Paul Liversidge, who oversees the volunteer development team leading on this project, said: “The safety of all staff and volunteers working for and supporting our service is paramount and we’re doing all we can to protect them and the patients we serve during the current Coronavirus pandemic. Introducing these screens is the next step in helping us do this.

“We are very grateful to Bob for trialling the screen for us and, with his help, we have been able to tweak the design to suit our needs. We’re now also investigating whether the screens could be modified further to make them suitable for some of our other vehicles.”