18th February 2015

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Health-Chat with Roy Lilley 

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP Chair Health Select Committee

11th March - King's Fund 5.30.  Details here.  Some tickets left.

Misses the point
News and Comment from Roy Lilley

The sky was gin clear; the colour of baby blue eyes. A beautiful early February morning that sent a message; the vernal equinox might defy the solar alignments and call early. Step forward into the bright sunlight and feel the warmth of an early Spring. Step back into the shade and realise winter was lurking in the shadows.


This was definitely not the day to be lying on the cold road; tarmac sucking will and life away.


The cyclist lay in the middle of the lanes at one of the busiest roundabouts in Britain. Crumpled, crooked and heaped. Not a young man. A bush of grey hair, dark blue donkey-jacket, brown chords still clasped at the ankles with fluorescent cycle clips. Red socks and workman's boots. Someone's dad on the way home from a night shift or perhaps on the way to start his day.


He never got where he was headed. His cycle lay a few yards from him. The front wheel bent almost double. This was a working bike. Not a lightweight, bum-in-the-air-bike beloved of the Lycra generation. This was a black, sit-up-and-beg-bike, with panniers and basket. A working bike for a working man.


Around the man knelt a police officer and a blonde woman. She was taking charge; I'm guessing a passing nurse?


The traffic had ground to a halt. Engines ticked over. This was the Elephant and Castle roundabout in South London; it took its name from a pub. It links a shopping centre, the underground, a railway station and a fierce highway network.


In the middle of the junction roundabout a huge stainless steel box; in memory of Michael Faraday, who was born nearby.


Transport for London estimates, in the morning rush hour, nearly a thousand cyclists take their life in their hands and travel north around the racetrack swirl. Our man was headed south.


A few yards from where our man lay a flat back-lorry was stationary, its hazard lights flashing. You can guess the story.


The traffic was motionless; held up by three police motorcyclists and two police cars. The eerie silence was startled by the wail of a two-tone. Flashing blue lights were reflected in the shop windows. It was another police car.


A crowd gathered and motorists, growing impatient stepped out of their cars to get a better view of what was delaying the start to their day. They were texting and phoning. 'In a traffic jam, accident, no idea when...'


The blonde woman had taken off her coat and placed it under the man's head. The policeman rose and pushed his hands into his back and arched; as if to say, there's not much we can do.


Still no ambulance. Eight minutes can be a long time when you are waiting. If the crowd did but know it; Skipton House, London home of the NHS is a walk away. The HQ of the London Ambulance Service; up the street in Waterloo Road.


Another siren wailed the arrival of a paramedic, weaving his way between the parked cars. The bulky motor cycle expertly threaded through tiny gaps.


I wondered; Red One, or Two level call-out? Made no difference to the man, still motionless. The fact that the response was within the eight minute target made no difference to the luckless soul whose life would change forever by the events that morning.


The important thing; it was not a 'breach'. A paramedic on a bike had saved the blushes of ambulance bosses by arriving in time. I doubted there was much the paramedic could do to save the man from the bone-chill of the slab he lay on.


From the other side of the road it was obvious. The nurse and the first-aid trained policemen probably said it was obvious. The increasingly restless drivers could see. Six other police officers could see. The nurse and policeman had done all they could and the man needed to be taken to St Thomas' A&E, maybe two miles away.


This man needed an ambulance. It would have been obvious from the moment he disappeared under the back wheels of the lorry.


The first-responder did an heroic bike ride but as I walked on, to pick-up from where my day had stalled, I was left wondering... hitting the target sometimes misses the point.  


'What is the point of a select committee' come and join me in conversation with Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health Select Committee.

 Kings Fund 11th March - details here. 



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