On a crisp Friday evening in the Autumn of 2021, I had the fortune of spending an evening with the NWPCCC (Formerly CSIBASICS) team crewing their RRV in support of NWAS. They’ve made many offers while I have worked with the medics that make up the team. So, with all the paperwork in place and no more excuses not to, this was the night, my first outing as an official on an observation drive.
Given the nature of the work that the team delivers, I was ominously optimistic that absolutely anything could happen during the observation drive. Keeping myself safe and out of the way would be my number one priority, save from becoming a burden. And as a non-medic, there are a considerable number of things I would be hopeless with. Being a passenger at high speed is bread and butter for me, and I know the drivers well enough to know I’m in safe hands. But would I understand anything of what these guys talk out with their medical TLA speak? And what about the gory stuff?
The frantic start of shift
Arriving at the start of shift with homemade cookies in hand, I found a general calm around the evening. Observer cookies are a thing. The rapid response vehicle (RRV) was brought out of the garage and given a well-rehearsed start of shift check. It was nice to see the team, some of whom I’ve not seen face to face for more than six months. It’s a peaceful atmosphere.
A peace that is soon shattered when a call comes in, just a few minutes into the shift. It’s very much a ‘go go go’ situation, acted out by people who have done it a thousand times. I’d best describe the smooth departure as a well-rehearsed start of a family outing, all with little speaking. The first shout is a 40-minute drive under normal circumstances.
As quick as you can, as fast as you need
Perhaps it’s evident that the speed of getting to a significant trauma is essential but not at any cost. We travel at some significant speeds towards the location of the incident. And we’re four up in a BMW X5 SUV, yet thanks to the driver’s skill, it never feels fast. For me, it’s also rewarding to see the impact that the blue lights and siren have on making progress.
Here is my first observation. The drive to the incident is a vital piece of time. This time is not just spent getting to the patient. It is time for planning. And not just planning based on the limited information they have, but including plans for the situation not being as planned. Then continually adapting that plan as new data arrives. It’s spoken planning, something closer to deciding what to eat in a restaurant. What I observe is a level of professionalism I seldom see in my day to day job.
Part of a team and a community
This shout does not have a great outcome, and there is no need for me to share the details. We are stood down from the job just a few minutes from the destination, but the team decides to continue through. To me, this seems like a sensible thing to do. It’s a significant event and may not be as described. There is, however, a vital welfare element I have missed that is included in the decision making.
And this is my second observation of the night. The NWPCCC team are far from an isolated turning up to save people’s lives. I recognise that this is a small part of what they do. They are part of a much bigger community of life-preserving services. We have continued through to the incident to support their friends, colleagues and community. Not just with medical skills but also with people and leadership skills.
A quiet night after all?
After the emotional roller coaster of the start of the shift, the rest of the evening is relatively calm. Then, as is often the way with medics, the evening discussions turn to food. It is important to note that this isn’t a cop with a doughnut affair but simple survival. If it all kicks off, there may not be another time to feed. And as you would expect, just as the takeaway arrives, another shout comes in, and it is only around the corner. Best described as a flash in the pan, we soon head off to find somewhere to eat.
Here is my third observation of the evening with the team. These guys are weird. Now I don’t mean that they have odd hobbies or peculiar personal hygiene, but something vital about working together and communicating. They can switch from being active in their medical role to just socially chatting almost in the same sentence. I believe it’s part of their experience and professionalism which means they are somewhat on the same wavelength and can switch between conversations like a married couple might.
The business of pre-hospital care
All the members of CSI Basics are volunteers, giving up their free time. And this free time isn’t just attending incidents. Far more of their time goes into generating income through fundraising and making the world aware of what they do. Dusing the evening, between calls, we take an opportunity to get some pictures in front of a famous Liverpool landmark.
And this brings me to my fourth observation. The NWPCCC team are entirely self-funded, receiving no government funding, much like North West Air Ambulance. As a non-medical volunteer with the team, I’m aware of the importance of keeping costs down. However, I had no idea of the actual cost and paperwork required to keep this voluntary service running. The funding provided through HelipadHELP and the MobileCentre, to name a few, is the difference between the team being on the road and not.
Being in the right place at the right time
Through the various dispatch methods, jobs reach the team in several ways. Be it by radio or phone app, the incidents can be anywhere and at any time in an extensive catchment area. The responders showed a skillset on shift that I hadn’t considered before, being in the right place at the right time. Now, this isn’t about clairvoyance, reading tea leaves or the use of a crystal ball. This skill is based on a wealth of experience and local knowledge to stay on main high ways so that they can respond in Manchester, Liverpool or even the RRVs home base of Winsford.
So this brings me to my fifth and final observation of the shift. We stop by many places during the night, be it for a rest break, cup of tea or to catch up with other teams. At each stop, the team bump into people they have met before. Be it Cheshire Police, North West Air Ambulance or Aintree Hospital (to name a few), the team is welcomed everywhere we stop. NWPCCC is most certainly part of a more extensive system keeping people safe across the North West.
End of shift
And so, just eight hours after the start of shift, we start to make our way home. From the stories I’ve heard during the evening, it’s clear that this has been an unusually quiet night for the team. However, for me, it has opened my eyes to the lengths the team goes to for providing pre-hospital care. It’s showed me just how much passion they have for the team. I knew they were keen, but now I can see just a glimpse of what goes on in the background. I understand why they wanted me to join them as an observer. My eyes are very much opened.
It doesn’t quite end there, though. Before being put back in the garage, the car must be refuelled, paperwork completed and cleaned ready for the next shift. And, of course, the battery charger gets plugged into the MagCode.
My thanks go to Jon, Mike and John for taking me on the shift with them. For showing me some of the underpinnings of the team. And for explaining the elements that go into a single shift at my level of understanding.