Following my eye-opening shift with West Yorkshire Police over the summer, I joined both Yorkshire Ambulance Service and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service last week to gain a deeper understanding of their work serving and protecting our communities.
I firstly want to take this opportunity to say that I have been blown away by the dedication and commitment of those I have had the privilege of working alongside in our emergency services here in Calderdale.
Since 2010, successive rounds of cuts have stripped away resources from these vital services. To take the most striking example of this, nationally 7,000 firefighters have been cut over the last 6 years and only 2,101 full-time firefighters are now serving West, North and South Yorkshire, compared to 2,658 in 2010.
The Government expects the increased workload to be done by staff facing pay freezes and reduced terms and conditions. Yet despite this, our emergency staff know just how important their work is and continue to bravely serve our communities to keep us safe, day after day.
On Wednesday I spent the day with firefighters at Halifax fire station to join them for drills, education on fire prevention in schools and work with homeowners and businesses to reduce their fire risks.
I was amazed at just how varied and wide ranging the role of the fire service now is. To see their work in rescuing those in difficulty I joined them for a drill simulating a call-out of someone who had got into difficulty off Albert Promenade rocks and required assistance. Only a few hours after this simulation we were called to a real-life situation where a cyclist had slid down a ravine and required the same skills to help get him to safety.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s budget has taken a battering in recent years and shifts in Halifax have been reduced from seventeen people to just five firefighters with one engine. We are all particularly grateful to our local firefighters who, when the floods came on Boxing Day, gave it their all, and there were no doubts just how essential our fire and rescue service really is.
During my shift with the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, I was struck by the geographical reach of the operation. YAS is responsible for an area of almost 6,000 square miles and consequently calls to the Halifax station can take them far and wide, depending on demand and availability.
It was clear from my shift that the Government’s failure on mental health care is putting huge pressure on our emergency services. Those who are struggling with mental health challenges are increasingly having to reach a crisis point before they start to benefit from the appropriate support. I saw that Ambulances are being called to attend to patients who require emergency intervention, because of earlier and more appropriate care has simply not been available. This was clear of both mental health provision and effective social care. If the correct, well-funded services, were in place, and were available where and when people needed them, fewer people would be reaching those crisis points.
I commend the paramedics who are compassionately having to deal with the consequences of the broken system, but ultimately only the Government get to grips with this, and it must.
Spending full shifts with our emergency services, who start at the crack of dawn and often knock-off way past the official end of their shifts because a late call has come in, has been an invaluable opportunity to see for myself the pressures facing our emergency services. I will carry these experiences with me to Westminster as Labour strive to protect all of our front line emergency services, and the hardworking, dedicated professionals behind them.