Strap yourself in for stressful Saturday entertainment in this well-produced UK observational series.
Strap yourself in for a stressful night of Saturday night viewing.
New UK series Ambulance follows the men and women of the London Ambulance Service as they deal with ticking time bombs across the city: suicide, overdoses, road trauma, cardiac arrests, fire victims. This is not an easy watch, but if frontline observational television is a genre that captivates you, this is just about as good as they come.
Cameras follow both paramedics on the road and the dispatchers “allocators” in the phone room making life and death decisions about where to send their ambulances. In a city of 8.5m people, and a heaving National Health Service, there is drama at every turn.
The doco frequently uses an aerial view with “Google Map”-like pins to highlight emergencies. Cardiac arrest here, shooting there, heroin overdose over there…… when you see the nearest ambulance on the same map you get some idea of the urgency and the decision-making that puts staff under pressure.
Yet with cameras accompanying them these trained experts remain calm, whether on the road or in the control room.
Amongst the cases profiled, a family has called 999 because a man has gone into cardiac arrest at home. Statistically only 1 in 10 will survive. It takes 36 -thirty six- minutes before they even arrive.
Paramedics try to resuscitate him for another 45 minutes.
“They think we can perform miracles, but there comes a point where we can’t do anymore and we obviously need to let the person pass peacefully,” says one paramedic before advising the family of grim news and helping them with their grief.
“They are the people who have to deal with what’s left.”
Another man goes into cardiac arrest in his GP’s surgery, meaning the ambulance can transport him to hospital.
“I think luck does play a part in peoples’ lives.”
In the dispatch centre staff acknowledge, seconds feel like minutes, minutes feel like hours when you are waiting for an ambulance.
Calls come in reporting a hanging, with staff asking if someone can cut the body down to begin CPR. A homeless man has overdosed on the street.
Stress levels rise when major emergencies break out concurrently. A care facility calls in with a stabbing victim, who is losing a lot of blood. But a shooting has also broken out and multiple crews are required.
When the dispatch rooms elevates to Purple Enhanced, it means they can no longer provide safe cover for the city of London and need to start declining some calls.
“We have to start being more ruthless,” say staff, now choosing which callers are genuine emergencies.
“You do feel quite heartless sometimes.”
There is room for some personal insight into the staff too, although most remain largely unidentifiable.
“Are you scared of dying?” one driver asks his partner, adding that he never takes his sons for granted anymore.
“Everytime I speak to them I tell them I love them.”
Another reveals he prefers not knowing the circumstances which have brought an individual to the point of needing a paramedic, to avoid making judgments about whether they might be victim or perpetrator.
“I don’t want to know what’s happened prior to me arriving, so I can treat everybody the same.”
In a city the size of London, life and death is a daily occurrence for these local heroes.
“I pronounce someone dead at least once a shift,” one reveals. “You never become used to it… but you build up a level of resilience.”
This is confronting viewing, the kind that would leave the Gogglebox cast watching through their fingers, but unable to look away. It’s also quite long, at an hour without advertisements, and is an odd fit for Saturday night entertainment. But it is well-produced, at 3 episodes narrated by
Kris Marshall (Death in Paradise) with another 4 on the regional West Midlands Ambulance Service, narrated by Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, The A Word).
Ambulance airs 7:30pm Saturday on TEN