Ruralshire General Hospital A&E looks like one of those US Federal prisons we should (but don’t) have in England. More money has been spent on huge secure electronic doors to the treatment areas, swipe card access control systems and high-resolution CCTV than on medical equipment.
I am standing in front of 3 inches of armoured glass in A&E with Sergeant Dan, Mickey “The Head” Thompson and “Irish Stu” waiting for a bored gum-chewing receptionist to finish her protracted telephone call before she will deign to look up and meet my gaze.
We have been there for at least four minutes.
There we stand in all our gear, radios blasting while dozens of tired, sad-looking prospective patients look on. It is freezing outside, so they only leave the department to smoke furiously by the ambulances. They are at hospital because they are ill or injured, so they smoke. Strange.
Eventually, having exhausted the phone conversation with Tracy about what a bastard Tyler was not telling her that he was seeing Shelly, and that she always let him see kids on a Saturday and this is how he rewards her, she looks up and asks me what we want. The gum keeps moving, round and round, it is fascinating to watch. So white against all that red lipstick. I am transfixed with it.
I notice the others looking at me. “Oh sorry, yes, ahem, the personal attack alarm from inside the department has been pressed” I tell her. Do I want her to let us in? Yes, that might be a plan. She can’t do this. It is against ‘the contract’ to let anyone in without a Serbian security guard present, and he is not present. He is not present, because behind the sound proof doors, he is being attacked by a maniac, hence the panic alarm.
In the old days, I would have argued about this obvious masterpiece of jobsworthness. I would have become agitated at the thought of a person having the life crushed out of them a few feet away, while we were being kept out for no reason at all. That was the old days. The days before every member of staff is an agency worker with no ability to make any decision, terrified of losing one of the only jobs left in the town, burdened by rules and deserted by management at the slightest whiff of any incident which might jeopardise ‘the contract’.
I sigh. OK. Can I just have your name so we can record who it was that refused entry to the police when the panic alarm had been activated? She is not allowed to give out her name unless I am a patient. It’s in the contract. But I need to know who you are for when the security guy is seriously injured, I say. She won’t ell me, emboldened by her armoured glass. I whip out my cell phone and take her photo. Now I have your picture, I don’t need your name any more I say.
I am not allowed to take her photo, she says, not on hospital property. It is against the contract.
The time for messing about is over. Open the doors immediately or we will get a specialist team down here and break them down I say, this time with my strictest face. After we have broken the doors down, if any of the staff inside are dead or seriously injured, you will be held to account and probably arrested, depending upon the circumstances.
I am exaggerating of course. We have no specialist team at this time of the night in Ruralshire any more. Two years ago we would have, but not any more.
At this point, one of the paramedics comes running down the corridor inside and lets us in. Where the hell have you been? she asks, it’s murder in there! We belt down towards the screaming alarm. The three of us try to pull an 18 stone maniac off one of the doctors. The Serbian guard watches. He will not intervene because it is not in the contract. If there is any violence, he has been told that he must call the police. On no account must he get involved, it is not in the contract and besides, if anyone is injured by him, he will lose his job and the firm will lose the contract.
I can’t help but see all of this as an omen for the future under Winsor, Gibbs and May.
As we transport the offender to custody, where no doubt he will be immediately sent back to hospital by a risk averse custody skipper, backed up by the nurse provided by the same firm as the Serbian guard, I see that Sergeant Dan keeps a book in the back of the van to read while we wait in the endless queue for custody. I decide to give it a go. Successful Muskrat Farming by Robert G Hodgson.
The very fact that our Skipper has such a strange but interesting book sums up everything you need to know about being on a Response team; and not a contract in site.