Call handler’s tears on TV show as she is unable to send ambulance to ill elderly Lancashire woman

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The moment a 999 call handler dissolves into tears shows on a new TV show exposes the increasing pressure Lancashire emergency services are under.

Elly Hollinghurst, of Parlick Avenue in Longridge, is featuring in the BAFTA award-winning series Ambulance on BBC One.

Elly Hollinghurst is featuring in Ambulance, a BAFTA award-winning observational documentary series on BBC One.

Elly Hollinghurst is featuring in Ambulance, a BAFTA award-winning observational documentary series on BBC One.

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And the 25-year-old mother of two will be shown in this week’s episode reduced to tears as she is unable to send an ambulance to an elderly woman in pain.

As the show launches, Elly has spoken of the highs, lows and frustrations of working on the other end of the emergency phone line.

“I have calls where I have been like ‘I don’t know if I can to this’,” she said.

Ambulance,  a BAFTA award-winning observational documentary series on BBC One.

Ambulance, a BAFTA award-winning observational documentary series on BBC One.

“One was quite traumatic. It was an assault call.

“It was the attacker who was calling but he wasn’t willing to help the patient. The patient had really bad facial injuries and was bleeding a lot. The assault was happening while I was on the phone.

“They were friends, I don’t know what had happened between them. This man ended up hanging up on me and although I called back repeatedly he didn’t pick up.”

Elly says that following the call she sought out someone to talk to about it as she was shaken. She said: “I went and spoke to someone about this call and I was having nightmares. They said it was very traumatic but with a call as severe as that was I might get only one in my whole career or I might get one a week.

Elly Hollinghurst is featuring in Ambulance, a BAFTA award-winning observational documentary series on BBC One.

Elly Hollinghurst is featuring in Ambulance, a BAFTA award-winning observational documentary series on BBC One.

“Later I listened back to the call and I sounded confident, I sounded in control so that helped.

“As I have gone on I think yes, that was really traumatic but I’ve moved on. I don’t think you will ever be fully hardened but you do develop a tougher skin.”

Elly has been in the job for about a year now and says that one of the most common calls she picks up the phone to is older people who have fallen down and can’t get up. But although she wants to help them there are sometimes other calls have to take precedence - and not necessarily for the right reasons.

“Someone who’s fallen is one of the most common calls,” said Elly. “It’s generally an older person. Sometimes they might not be injured but they might not be able to get up.

“They can be waiting a bit of time because we are under that much demand but we have to prioritise someone who is fitting for example.

“They can have a wait, it’s sad it’s really sad especially if they’re an older person. You do try and reassure them. It’s just because we have to prioritise.

“We do have frequent callers – if it’s 20 times a day it can be really frustrating because you think this person doesn’t have anything wrong with them.

“You think you don’t need this, especially when a 90-year-old is stuck on the floor.

“It can be frustrating because each time that person calls you have to treat that as a normal emergency. You are sending a resource to this person but you don’t think they need it but it’s not your place to say.

“It can also frustrating when people call and they could go to the chemist or the doctor or treat it at home. We could be directing it elsewhere where it’s better needed.

“If someone’s hurt their toe that person doesn’t need an ambulance, they could buy a bandage. Those resources that we send to that person could be going to someone else.

“We take the calls but we are not doctors, we can’t say to the person you don’t need an ambulance. You can ask are you able to make your own way? We can only do what we are trained to do.”

As well as the frustrations of not always being able to get to an ambulance to someone immediately is dealing with the day to day abuse.

But Elly says that it’s part of the job.

“We get a lot of abuse, a lot more than people think. It’s hard when you’re trying to help people.

“Of course it’s understandable when someone having a cardiac arrest for example and they’re not in a good way, people panic.

“People get cross if they have been waiting. We get a lot of swearing and people who say ‘I only live five minutes away from the hospital where is the ambulance – how can it take so long?’”

But despite the daily challenge of managing the ambulances in the best way they know how, Elly says being a call handler is incredibly rewarding.

“It’s a fantastic job,” she said. “It’s really rewarding but you can’t do it and say that it’s not stressful because it is. No matter how long you work here every call is different. They all present unique challenges.”

One particularly memorable call was from a man who told Elly that his wife was imminently giving birth.

“When the baby did arrive on the phone at around 4am it was absolutely lovely,” she said. “That’s the only time when someone calls 999 where they are actually in a happy place. It was fantastic. Everyone around me was really happy for me and then I got to go home and tell my kids.

“My little girl thought it was the best thing ever but then that night I had someone who passed away. It just makes you feel it’s such a massive contrast. One minute you’re delivering a baby and the next minute someone has passed away. It just makes you realise how fragile life is.

“It was her husband who was on the phone and he said it was their second baby. They had called the midwife but she wasn’t going to be there in time.

“The mum was amazing I didn’t hear a sound. Her husband just said ‘baby’s out’. I couldn’t believe it.

“Then I gave them instructions to give baby a rub and wrap him up. It’s a happy call and you can tell them at the end what time baby was born.

“I was so high for the rest of the night – I’d had a baby!”