Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Clapham Ambulance

Nestling somewhere between the common, the junction and the omnibus, the Clapham Ambulance has served the people of the local area since 1807. Indeed, much of its equipment dates back to this time or even earlier as do most of the medical procedures undertaken by the staff and, it is rumoured, some of the staff themselves. The ambulance station itself can be very difficult to find as its geographical coordinates are variable, depending on the movement of the omnibus, which is only stationary during the hours of darkness when the station becomes virtually invisible to the untrained eye. If you're really determined to locate it, my advice would be to look elsewhere. Or just wait.

Unlike the more modern and better known ambulance services, the Clapham Ambulance still comes under the auspices of the County Council which was abolished in 1965. Those of us who work here find that this arrangement works remarkably well and we've fought hard over the last forty odd years to preserve it. Systems of local government may come and go but the people of Clapham still become ill and die. That's always been our argument and to date no one has been able to refute it. Unfortunately the powers that be haven't the time for rational discourse and things now look set to change.

In its wisdom the Ministry has decided to introduce a new system of pay and conditions across the whole of the Public Health Service that will affect all employees except those already earning a decent wage, for whom separate arrangements have been made. This new scheme has been snappily entitled Resistance is Futile and was officially introduced at the end of last year, and though it doesn't seem to have reached us yet out here in the suburban backwater of Clapham, we fear it's only a matter of time. Last Friday our Divisional Superintendent, Ron Stretcher, reading from a scrap of paper told us that it was "an exciting and challenging step forward towards strategic modernisation and wide-ranging recognition of our role as dynamic health care professionals integrating within a multi-agency holistic framework to deliver world class patient care in the diverse environment of a twenty-first century urban community". We asked him what he was talking about but he just shrugged, bid us good day, and hurried off to the lodge for lunch.

Rumours are rife that Nobby Harris, our Station Officer since 1918, is taking early retirement and will be replaced by a young manager, an outsider who has never worked a shift on an ambulance. As we wait here and wonder, powerless to determine our own fate, a new mood has replaced the usual atmosphere of indolent jocularity. It is a dark and ominous cloud indeed, borne upon the unwanted wind of needless change, that has descended on the men of the Clapham Ambulance.