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UK-based Kiwi paramedic describes 'horror and torment' of working on Covid-19 frontline

A Kiwi paramedic based in the UK has described the "horror and the torment" of working on the frontlines as the UK passed a grim new milestone today of 100,000 Covid-19 deaths.

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Ryan Ottoway says the NHS is “on their knees” as Covid-19 cases there continue to rise. Source: Breakfast

Ryan Ottoway, who has been working in the UK for the past three years, told Breakfast he had initially relocated to the UK as part of an “exciting adventure, a chance to travel while also getting a chance for career progression”.

He described working on the frontline in the UK as Covid-19 cases continue to rise as “scary” and “something that you’re never prepared for”.

“They don’t teach you much about it in the degree," he said.

"You’re having to put the PPE on every single day; everything has to be meticulously clean; you have to be vigilant in terms of even talking to family members; family members haven’t been able to come to hospital; we’re having to do everything at a distance – the rules are changing every single day.”

Ottoway says while the virus itself is "OK", the "fallout and the ripple effect of the virus is what’s the saddest part".

"We’ve seen a massive rise in mental health, overdoses, suicides, normal patients missing their everyday appointments because everything’s cancelled; ambulances waiting outside hospitals for hours while you’re stuck in the back looking after your patient.

"If they’re Covid positive, it’s just more and more unnecessary exposure for us as frontline workers, sitting for two hours for handover."

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Anaesthetic technician Justine Arnott says she’s “physically and emotionally drained”. Source: 1 NEWS

Ottoway says frontline staff are being provided with support, but said it "raises the question of how much is enough?"

"I know for a fact we've got a lot of staff off, whether it's with confirmed Covid or whether it's waiting for a test and also mental health as well," he said.

“The NHS is just on their knees, really. It’s been crippling so staff are just working hours and hours and hours overtime and just seeing the horror and the torment every single day.

"You do feel a bit helpless, but we just know that we try not to stress about things that we can’t change and we’re just doing our part in terms of the bigger picture, and that’s really what it is for a lot of us." 

Ottoway will be returning to the UK on Saturday after travelling to New Zealand for his sister’s wedding, joking, "I’ve obviously got a screw loose".

“I think that for a lot of us, you do start the job – whether it’s paramedics, nursing, A&E, doctor, whatever it is in healthcare – you start it for the true love of people,” he said.

He said while it "would have been too easy to just get a one-way ticket and stay" in New Zealand, he feels a duty to see the pandemic through.  

"I think I’ve seen the start of the pandemic, I’ve seen the middle and now I’m going back into what could potentially be the worst part of it and I think for a lot of us, we’ve been in a medical war – that’s what it feels like, being shipped off overseas to help – but I think for me personally, it’s bigger than my own personal values.

"A lot of people don’t realise it at the time but down the line, it’s going to be a massive feat for everyone and it’s something very special and unique to be a part of, really."