Our June talk - Reviewed by Rosemary Doman

On 3rd June Glyn Brown, a practising paramedic, opened his talk humorously with a slide of the fictional Flintstones' ambulance, suggesting that it was a prototype for the wheeled litter stretcher used in the late 1800s! He told us that the Liverpool Northern Hospital had the very first ambulance in England. 580 patients were carried in 1884, Saturday and Sunday being the busiest days. The cost to the hospital was £196 per annum - paid out of a special fund, with private patients charged 2 guineas for each trip.

Ambulances, at first horse drawn, operated from various police and fire stations in Liverpool, as well as from the Northern and Southern Hospitals. They began operating in other areas such as Bootle and Birkenhead and by 1915 all were motorised, with two stretchers and a heater as well as windows. Under the 1948 Health Service Act all local authorities had to provide an ambulance service. Vehicles from each borough had their own distinctive stripe/colour. Liverpool City ambulances had an orange light and a bell. Ambulance men wore ties and white shirts and two were required to carry out each patient. Women could staff the control rooms but not carry patients.

Vehicles used included limousines and Morris and Austin vans. Stretchers were now placed one over another to allow more room for medical supplies, such as oxygen and blood, as well as a first aid bag. Pre 1974 there were 146 ambulance authorities in the U.K. In the 1960s-70s competitions were held, and in 1972 Liverpool won the 'design of the future' award with a Bedford van carrying 3 blue lights. In 1974 the 11 services in Merseyside combined to form the Mersey Metropolitan Ambulance Service and lost their individual insignia. Vehicles were standardised in shape, size and colour. The area covered expanded in 1991 to include Cheshire. Further expansion in 2006 led to the North West Ambulance Service serving the whole area up to the Scottish border.

Extensive training from 1986 onwards turned ambulance men into paramedics. Stretchers were moved to the offside to allow vehicles to carry an increasingly sophisticated range of equipment: drugs, defibrillators, bags of fluids, a paramedic box, maternity dressings, a cardiac monitor - and a 40ft rope in case of breakdown! The breathing tube, once rubber and re-used, is now throwaway plastic like most medical apparatus, all so much lighter than the resuscitation equipment of yesteryear, such as the 1950s Novox machine weighing 3½ stone. Control rooms have likewise hugely evolved, from the 1950s radio system, with black spot 'hit and miss' signals and the 'break the glass' call boxes, to the computer-driven system of today with mapping screens and sat-nav, and one woman operating each set of 3 screens.

From the primitive wagon to the blue flashing lights and sirens of today's 'mini hospital' on wheels, ambulances have come a long way. This engagingly light and amply illustrated talk gave us a fascinating history of the ambulance service over the past 130 years.

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