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Ambulance staffer for the London Ambulance Service speaks about working in the capital during the coronavirus peak

A Tonbridge father has spoken about working as an emergency ambulance crew member in the capital during the peak of the coronavirus, and says he's on the lookout for a second wave as London slowly reverts normal.

Thomas Denning, who, as part of his job, assesses whether people's coronavirus symptoms are life-threatening and then rushes them to hospital, says the city was like a ghost town during the height of the pandemic.

Thomas Denning with his son George, from Tonbridge Picture: London Ambulance Service NHS Trust
Thomas Denning with his son George, from Tonbridge Picture: London Ambulance Service NHS Trust

Many in Mr Denning's shoes would be afraid for their own safety, but despite regular, close contact with people displaying virus symptoms, the former Hugh Christie pupil, 34, is more concerned about his mum and sister, who work in supermarkets, as they do not have PPE equipment.

Calls to the London Ambulance Service (LAS) grew from around 5,000 a day, to a peak of more than 11,000 by the end of March, with unprecedented demands placed on the service.

Mr Denning, who has been with the LAS for three years, saw for himself the "massive surge" in calls, and staff members were briefed regularly on the virus and procedures.

Extensive PPE, such as masks and goggles were given to Mr Denning and his colleagues.

Mr Denning, a former detention officer, said: "At the stage where it all started I just got on with it, I didn't really think about catching it myself.

George was delighted to receive a letter from a London Ambulance Service boss, thanking him for 'sharing' his dad during the health crisis Picture: London Ambulance Service NHS Trust
George was delighted to receive a letter from a London Ambulance Service boss, thanking him for 'sharing' his dad during the health crisis Picture: London Ambulance Service NHS Trust

"There was a feeling of trying to keep patient contact to a minimum."

"I did find it difficult when the prime minister fell ill, I thought if it can happen to him it can happen to anyone, especially doing our job."

"We had both sides of the spectrum, there were people who displayed mild symptoms and were worried about the worst situation, or there could be people with life-threatening symptoms."

Explaining to relatives that they couldn't travel in the ambulance with their loved one, or visit in hospital, was hard.

"A lot of people understood but putting myself in that person's position I know I wouldn't like to be told I couldn't go with a loved one."

'I found it difficult when the prime minister fell ill, I thought if it can happen to him it can happen to anyone...'

"When the pandemic was at its worst it was easier to deal with because people understood but it's harder recently, the regulations are still in place but people don't understand that," the father-of-one said.

Driving through London in lockdown was "bizarre" with barely anyone on the streets or in cars.

Mr Denning took his mind off the job by spending time with his son, George, six, a pupil at Sussex Road Primary.

Hotel accommodation was provided to LAS employees who otherwise would have had to self-isolate at home for family reasons and been unable to go to work.

Fortunately, Mr Denning didn't have to do this.

'There's still a potential for a second outbreak...'

"I think I would have massively struggled if I couldn't have seen him George this," he said.

George was delighted to receive a letter from his dad's boss, Darren Farmer, assistant director of operations, thanking him for 'sharing' his life-saving dad during the health crises.

The six-year-old was one of hundreds of children of call handlers and medics to receive such a letter.

London is slowly returning to normal, but Mr Denning warns the pandemic "isn't over".

"I think it's still going on. There's still a potential for a second outbreak," he said.

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