End of the blue light runs for Preston ambulance boss Mick after 41 years

Mick pictured this week outside Preston Ambulance Station
Mick pictured this week outside Preston Ambulance Station
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The man in charge of ambulances across Preston, Chorley and South Ribble has hung up his uniform after more than 41 years in service.

Mick Doolan has retired as Operations Manager for South Lancashire for the North West Ambulance Service, having joined the profession as an ambulance man in July 1978.

Avenham-raised Mick had always been interested in first aid since joining the Preston Marine Cadets on Strand Road at the age of 13, but by 21 he was destined for a career as a printer. Everything changed when a fellow apprentice joined Lancashire Ambulance Service, and Mick decided to join him.

Now 63, and having had responsibility to oversee stations in Preston, Broughton, Walmer Bridge, Leyland, Chorley, Skelmersdale and Burscough, he looks back on the time fondly.

He said: “You were classed as a driver, attendant and a day worker, working 40 hours over four days at 97p an hour. Things were very different then. The equipment was oxygen and that was it. It was about getting people to hospital.

“We did a lot of outpatient runs as well, and a lot of repatriation runs. Patient transport was a resource that didn’t exist, so we did it. At that time a lot of people went to Blackpool on their holidays and if they became during that time, we’d repatriate them to their home area. The furthest I’ve been is to London.”

Mick spent six weeks training at Westleigh in Lea before being sent out on jobs, but in the 1980s and 1990s, new targets and training were brought in, as the health service sought to upskill its workforce and streamline services.

Mick was one of the first people in the North West to be out on the road in a Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV), assessing and treating people at the scene while back-up arrived in order to meet the new eight minute target for a Category 1 call.

He was also one of the first people to be trained to use a defibrillator, and when paramedic status was brought in - with greater training - Mick achievied the title in 1991. He said: “The job became much more recognised, we were seen as professionals in our own right.”

Keen to progress to a career in management, in 1994, Mick graduated from UCLan with a business studies degree after putting himself through it while working full time. He began covering the Fylde, Morecambe and Lancaster areas, before landing a role based at Preston ambulance station.

The role involved taking responsibility for staff, fleet and the estate, but he was still placed on the on-call rota for serious incidents. Given an unmarked response car, he was frequently called upon to attend jobs such as serious road traffic collisions and hospital incidents, fires, and flooding. In 2009 he spent three days helping to worst affected people by the Cockermouth floods.

Some of the most serious cases always remain in Mick’s thoughts.

He said: “There are highs and lows and you never get away from the hard bits. We’re all caring people.

“For me, all the deaths I’ve attended, it’s not about the people who have passed away but the people who are left behind.

“Certain jobs do affect you. When I was 21 I wasn’t married, I didn’t have any kids, so you just do it and you get quite hardened to it. But then life changes and you mellow as you get older.

“People have had to leave the job because certain things upset them.

“But there’s much greater support these days. If we get a serious incident we take the crews off the road, we have a debriefing and we talk about what we can learn from it. We also offer peer support and staff can be referred on to counselling.”

These days there are additional pressures on paramedics who are expected to assess the patients needs, rather than take them straight to hospital, deciding whether they can be treated in situ, or require different levels of care.

Mick said: “When I first started, people rang 999 and we’d get them to hospital. Now someone rings 999 and they’re first triaged on the phone from a call room and the call is categorised.

“People still think that you ring 999 and you get an ambulance, but they’re graded now, even if a doctor rings up.”

The move to assess and not just take a patient straight to hospital is, in part, to relieve pressure on hospital resources.

In recent years there have been frequent reports of ambulances queuing outside Accident and Emergency departments as hospital staff struggle to deal with a backlog of patients.

Mick said: “The last few years have been horrendous with queuing. Our staff are on corridors, not able to release patients and attend other jobs.

“I have to liase with them (hospital bosses) and find out what’s going on and if there’s anything we can do to alleviate it.

“This year has been a lot better. We’re working more and more in partnership with CCGs and Hospital Trusts, it’s a more more joined-up approach.”

Looking back, Mick said: “I’ve enjoyed it, it doesn’t feel like 40 years. One of the real highs was being asked to be a Commander in London for the Olympic and Paralympic games and also the Queen’s Jubilee.”

Mick spent weeks in the capital in 2012 assisting London Ambulance Service , providing the link between the NHS and the Athletes Village and Olympic Park, should an incident occur.

Mick’s job has also lead him to work closely with Preston North End, a team he has followed since childhood. Since the early 1990s, football clubs have been required to provide more emergency cover following the Hillsborough tragedy.

In 2011 Mick became a pitch side paramedic and then became Match Commander, responsible for the safety advisory for the club, writing medical plans.

In retirement he plans to spend more time motorbiking and walking his dog Dougie.