The time it takes an ambulance to reach patients in life-threatening situations in our region has hit the headlines and even the House of Commons.
East Midlands Ambulance Service has bore the brunt of the criticism but bosses say its unfair to hold them completely to blame for the failure to meet targets for ambulance response times.
They say paramedics face constant challenges like the weather, slow handover times at hospitals and inappropriate 999 calls from the public.
Evening Telegraph reporter Alex Ross went out with two teams of ambulance crews to find out what life is like on one of the frontlines of the NHS.
IT’S late morning at one of the county’s main ambulance stations and already teams of paramedics have attended more than 40 life-threatening 999 calls.
From the ambulance service’s nine stations crews have had a busy morning attending all sorts of emergencies across the area from amputated fingers to cardiac arrests.
So I have to thank two crews for allowing me to jump on board their vehicles for four hours of their already-frantic days.
The first duo I join are Adam Nash and Alison Smith.
Both are on a 6am to 6pm shift and are just finishing their 45-minute lunch before sweeping me on board along with a fluorescent jacket and hard hat.
Their first call is to attend a 47-year-old woman who feels dizzy after being struck at the back of the head the night before.
With blue nights flashing and me gripped to my seat we dodge busy traffic through Northampton town centre like a skier taking on a downhill slalom.
Adam, who has been at the service for four-and-a-half-years, said: “Drivers sometimes pull over in the strangest of places.
“The best thing they can do is to look out for us and create space on the route we are taking through traffic.”
In just eight minutes we arrive at a house in Kingsthorpe, Northampton, and are showed in to the woman who is sat at a table.
Adam asks how she is feeling and she explains about getting hit on the back of the head at about 11pm the night before by someone she did not know.
Tests find she has a high blood level and her complaints of dizziness are serious enough for the paramedics to take her to Northampton General Hospital.
We arrive in the emergency department and the woman is sat down while Adam formally hands over the patient to a nurse.
The handover takes just 10 minutes – five minutes below the targeted time.
Everything is going to plan and its so far so good for hitting response time and handover time targets.
I’m next passed on to another two-member crew at the ambulance waiting bays.
Tom McNally and Simon Jennings are also on a 12-hour shift.
They started at 7am and have yet to take a break because of the busy morning.
After also dropping a patient at the hospital they are almost immediately dispatched to another matter – a man with an amputated finger needs a lift from Kettering General Hospital to a specialist hospital in Leicester.
We hurtle towards the A43 but as we reach the roundabout news comes through on the radio that another ambulance has become available in Kettering and can take over the job.
There is still no rest for Tom and Simon though.
An emergency call has come from Briar Hill, Northampton, where a woman’s waters have broken.
The blue lights flash back on and we snake around the estate to a backyard where we get out and step into a small one-bedroom flat.
Inside one bedroom the woman is shouting from her bed in pain as her boyfriend and mother run around her.
Just minutes after stepping inside she shouts the baby’s head has come out and she turns on all fours to give birth on her bed.
It is a dramatic incident and I’m taken back by how calm Tom and Simon – two men – are to deal with the situation.
The umbilical cord is then cut and the pair call on a midwife team to check the woman and baby are okay.
We wait 30 minutes for the two-women team to arrive and another 30 minutes for them to do their job inside.
Standing outside, Tom said: “I haven’t done many child births, but I must admit they are special – it makes a nice change to some of the jobs we do.”
I asked him about the media attention the service had received on the ambulance reponse times.
He said: “For patients who require treatment for life-threatening conditions response times are really important.
“But they are frustrating when a response car may get to a scene and make the time but there is no double-crewed ambulance around to immediately take the patient to hospital.
“I think there is also a need for better catagorisation of 999 calls so the most suited unit can be dispatched to a patient.”
Simon said: “Some days we go home and feel a bit tired but other days I come back thinking I have the best job in the world.”
Back inside the midwives think the mother and baby need to be taken to hospital because the baby is cold so we all get in the ambulance and head back to Northampton General Hospital.
On arrival we drop the midwives and patient and her baby off before Tom gives the inside of the ambulance a good clean.
It is seven-and-a-half hours since the pair started and at last they can head back to the Mereway Ambulance Station for a well-earned break.
Leaving the pair I felt a great sence of appreciation for the work they do under, what sometimes can be, the hardest of circumstances.
The ambulance service may be struggling to meet response times but from my opinion the staff could not be working harder to help the people they serve.