Two beloved and well-respected colleagues reflect on 40 years in the ambulance service
Kuldip Bhamrah and Pat Withers, both at the start of their careers in 1981.
Two frontline colleagues are celebrating their milestone 40th year with East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS).
Kuldip Bhamrah, an Ambulance Technician, joined what was then known as Leicestershire Ambulance Service in May 1981 as a member of the non-emergency Patient Transport Service.
A year later Kuldip successfully trained and qualified as a technician and has responded to thousands of 999 calls ever since. This is a route of progression still available to staff at EMAS today.
Speaking of his vast experience, Kuldip said: “Every day for me is like my first day at work as there is always something new you can learn by the end of a shift.”
Pat Withers, a Clinical Operations Manager for the Leicestershire Division, started around the same time as Kuldip in April 1981 and remembers first seeing him as they were both waiting for their job interviews.
Pat said: “I started my career doing part-time hours taking patients with mental health issues to and from their hospital appointments.
“This would only take up three hours of my time a day. After six months of doing this, I was encouraged to apply for a full-time position as my colleagues believed I had the right skills to do the job.
“The fact that I received this feedback from men in a very male dominated profession in the early 1980s, was very validating.”
Both Kuldip and Pat have experienced lots of different things throughout their careers at EMAS.
Kuldip, the first Sikh ambulanceman in the East Midlands, was a recipient of the Queen’s Ambulance Medal, given to him by Prince Charles.
One of his many career highlights included being invited along to the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London, recording the Beatles classic ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ to celebrate the NHS’s 70th birthday in 2018.
Prior to a career of responding to patients in an emergency, Kuldip was in two bands – ‘KS Bamrah & Party’ and ‘Awaaz Group’ – which released several EPs and albums throughout the 70s and 80s.
Kuldip has also used his musical talents to help raise money for LOROS (Leicester Organisation for the Relief of Suffering) when they had a mission to open up a hospice in the city of Leicester.
He also got to attend the official opening the building in May 1986, which was done by Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Kuldip said: “I have always known that I wanted to be able to help other people in their time of need and at the time I used music to be able to do just that.”
He said: “I can’t help but sing at work as I do a job that makes me happy because I like caring for people.
“Singing to them also helps to relax patients – especially when I serenade them on the way to hospital.”
For Pat, after being encouraged by her colleagues to join the ambulance service full-time, she was put through her paces at training school in order to become more hands-on in the treatment of her patients.
Pat Withers sat in the front seat of a fast response car ready to respond to patients.
Pat said: “The training was a real eye-opener for me as I soon realised that my role involved more than just picking people up from a place and dropping them off at the nearest hospital.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re interested in something then you’re willing to learn and that’s what I did.”
After qualifying from her course, Pat was able to administer certain medications and first aid to patients, especially children, that she would have been unable to before.
She added: “I thought I was the bee’s knees because I could perform a blood pressure check and bandage a patient when it was required.”
Pat’s additional skills would be put to the test at one of the most challenging incidents she has ever responded to, the Kegworth Air Disaster of 1989.
Pat said: “We would usually get a message come through on the radio to say that a plane was coming into some difficulty on the way to the airport and so we were mobilised to the runway of the airport on standby just in case.
“This time the message we received said that a plane was down across the motorway.
“Arriving on the scene of the plane crash and seeing the sight in front of us, nothing can ever prepare you for that.
“That incident affected me for a long time, which is why I am now trained to offer Peer 2 Peer assistance to my colleagues as one of our many support networks we have in place at EMAS.
“The ambulance service has come a long way since the Kegworth Air Disaster in recognising that these incidents can have a lasting impact on the frontline colleagues who attend and therefore may need vital support.”
Kuldip is still out on the road responding to our patients.
The past 14 months have been tough for Kuldip, Pat and many of their colleagues as COVID-19 pandemic has been the most challenging time for the NHS in its 73-year history.
Unfortunately, in November last year, Kuldip caught COVID-19.
He could not return to duties until March 2021 because of developing long COVID with symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness and heart palpitations.
Kuldip said: “For the first time in my nearly 40-year career, I was the one who needed an ambulance as I was so short of breath and had a sky-high temperature.
“I honestly thought in that moment that I was not going to make it and that I would die.”
However, Kuldip has no plans to retire in the near future so he can continue being there for his patients.
He added: “I’m not ready to close the door on such an amazing chapter of my life and I will only retire when my body starts to tell me that the time is right.
“My wife has always been, and continues to be, wholeheartedly supportive of what it is I do.
“I have had my COVID vaccine which makes me feel more protected and I feel looked after by EMAS who have continually supplied me and my colleagues with the levels of PPE we need to stay safe.”
Reflecting on her time at EMAS, Pat said: “40 years down the line, I still don’t know everything, but I am still just as passionate about providing quality patient care and have built up a good rapport with so many of my colleagues throughout the decades.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my daughters, Melissa and Marie, for being so supportive of me and my colleagues over the years.”
Pat's family consisting of her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren visiting an ambulance station in Leicestershire at Christmas to drop off bags filled with treats to ambulance crews.