Retro: South Yorkshire’s vital ambulance service

Ambulance dispute march in Sheffield - 1989
Ambulance dispute march in Sheffield - 1989
0
Have your say

Today we start a new Midweek Retro series, with an A to Z of different jobs, both past and present.

We begin with ambulance workers, those men and women who help us all in some of the most scary and vulnerable moments of our lives.

The Ambulance Centre of Staveley Works, nr Chesterfield have just taken delivery of a newly converted Vauxhall Victor estate car which they are using for accidents on the works.  Our picture shows Mr J. Skevington and Sister S.M. Smith with the vehicle - 25th August 1971

The Ambulance Centre of Staveley Works, nr Chesterfield have just taken delivery of a newly converted Vauxhall Victor estate car which they are using for accidents on the works. Our picture shows Mr J. Skevington and Sister S.M. Smith with the vehicle - 25th August 1971

The first ambulances in this country are thought to date back to more than 1,000 years to Anglo Saxon times, when hammock-based carts were used to transport both people with psychiatric problems and leprosy patients.

At the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans used a litter suspended on two poles carried between 
horses to transport their wounded from the battlefield.

According to the Red Cross, the first motorised ambulances were used to transport the wounded in the First World War, using cars offered by members 
of the Royal Automobile Club (in those days the RAC was a rather more upmarket breakdown service).

The Red Cross managed to send 2,171 motor ambulances to various destinations by the end of the war, including 512 bought after a public appeal for funds and others given as gifts.

The Red Cross bought practically every vehicle chassis in the country 
that was suitable for the purpose.

In those days the phrase field ambulance referred to the mobile frontline medical units that treated patients, rather than just the vehicles that were used to transport casualties.

The first home ambulance service followed in 1919 and the UK ambulance service was created when the NHS was established following World War Two.

In cities like Sheffield there were also medical teams and ambulance services run by the big steel and 
engineering companies, on the spot to deal with workplace accidents and emergencies.

At first ambulances were staffed by volunteers but in 1964 the Millar report recommended that patients should be treated en route to hospitals, so training schools were set up.

Training was basic first aid with a few added skills in the use of oxygen and pain relief and the ambulances themselves carried only basic equipment.

Things have moved on a lot now with the introduction of paramedics, first responders and the air ambulance service.

A decade later, each ambulance service was transferred to the NHS area that it served. South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service was created as a result.

That was merged with the other two county services and became part of Yorkshire Ambulance Service in 2006.

From time to time there have been trade union disputes in the ambulance service, as two of our pictures on these pages show.

The joint action by five health unions in 1989-90 to win better wages and new pay machinery was supported by many other trade unionists.

Their solidarity helped the ambulance teams win a 17.6% pay increase from Tory health minister Kenneth Clarke after a six-month battle that had seen all accident and emergency staff suspended by managers.

Union members held a meeting and agreed that they would make good their pledge to the public and 
provide their own emergency cover, regardless of whether they were being paid or not.

Kenneth Clarke dismissed the ambulance workers as “professional drivers, a worthwhile job – but not an exceptional one”.

However, the huge amount of support that the union members received showed that ordinary people appreciated their life-saving skills far more than he did.