Have you been watching the latest series of Channel 4’s 999 What’s Your Emergency?
When the first series aired, some Wiltshire Councillors – from the ‘ruling party’ – complained bitterly that the programmes did not give a picture of the county that they recognised: ”Wiltshire’s not like that.”
In the wake of the absolutely scandalous and wantonly murderous poisonings in Salisbury and Amesbury, we have all learned more about what Wiltshire’s really like. It has a drug culture and it has many people left living on the edge.
Wiltshire Councillors can learn an awful lot about the extent and depth of the state in which austerity has left the county by watching 999 What’s Your Emergency?
The proviso – as far as protecting the sensibilities of those councillors goes – is that the area the programmes cover does, like the police and ambulance service itself, include Swindon – a town with more than a fair share of urban issues.
However, Wiltshire emergencies aplenty appear in the programmes. As well as outrageous, time-wasting hoaxers and people who think they have the right to dial 999 because they cannot find the stopper to their hot water bottle – or similar inanities.
The real wonder of these programmes is not just the dedication and professionalism of the call-takers and the ‘first responders’ (a very useful new collective noun) – police, fire, ambulance and para-medics.
It is their amazing resilience, common sense and humanity that shines through. They know that despite the odds that keep being stacked against them – too few staff, too few ambulances, too few police, more complex ill-health, more older fragile people - they can and they do save lives.
Even watching the programmes is an emotional roller-coaster ride. We move from the sense of humour of the call-taker who has been royally (if idiotically) hoaxed, to the despair of the man talking to a 999 caller who has just killed a man, to the joy of successful remote-control delivery help for a pregnant woman caught at home with no one to help with the sudden arrival of her baby.
One of the ambulance crew featured in the programmes had first hand experience of homelessness before he put his life back together and trained for the service. As a colleague put it so succinctly about the pitfalls in life: “It only takes one slip for everything to come crashing down.”
From the theft of a sandwich to major burglary, these public servants know how much austerity, current work practices like zero hour contracts and a creaking NHS, has led so many people slipping into trouble, into crime, into desperate need. Troubles, crimes and desperation – they have to deal with them all.
And on these programmes they tell it like it is.