‘Extraordinary’ emergency services staff who ran towards danger to help in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in London were brave, professional and dedicated, doctors leaders and politicians have said.
Staff from St Thomas’ Hospital ran to the scene of the attack in Westminster and paramedics, ambulance crew, police and passing doctors were all involved in securing the area and treating the injured.
BMA junior doctors committee chair Jeeves Wijesuriya was one of the first on the scene after he heard the panic while giving a media interview near to the incident in Parliament Square.
Dr Wijesuriya, a London GP trainee, was escorted to the scene by police after identifying himself as a doctor.
‘I was doing an interview with the BBC and had just finished filming outside Parliament and walked back inside a nearby building,’ Dr Wijesuriya said.
‘I was on the phone sorting a cab back and a woman ran into the building screaming – she said some people had been shot and she was visibly upset.
‘I instantly went to the door to see what had happened. The security guard started locking the doors but I went outside and there was a stampede of people running across the road in the other direction. I thought I should go and see if anybody needed help.
‘I ran towards the nearest police officer, he was getting people out of the area and told me to go but I identified myself as a doctor and asked whether anyone was hurt and whether there was anything I could do to help.
'Two plain-clothes police officers emerged and they said "yes" and took me with them. We ran from the TV studios all the way into Parliament Square. At this point I had no idea what was going on.
‘When we were running towards Parliament I just thought “remember your basics”. I didn’t have any equipment, I just decided I needed to get the basics right. There was so much I would have wanted to do, but I didn’t have anything to hand and I didn’t know what I was running into.
‘I started to check people maintained good CPR and swapped regularly, made sure there was pressure on the wounds, read the emergency heart monitors in case a shock could be delivered, ensured both had oxygen which was attached properly. Just trying to keep reassessing clinically and make sure we did the fundamentals of life support.
‘After five or maybe 10 minutes, when the paramedics and HEMS [helicopter emergency medical service] teams arrived I handed over the situation.
'That five or 10 minutes felt like forever, being alone without all the equipment or tools I needed. I then started working with the teams to get lines, airways in with the equipment they brought. The HEMS doctors were simply extraordinary and took control of the situation, delegating the work and taking decisive action.’
Dr Wijesuriya added: ‘I just wanted to do everything I could – the paramedics and I agreed as a team we would keep going with support until someone ordered us to stop despite the chaos around us. No one knew whether anything else was going on or what was happening so we just tried to block all of that out and continue to work on the patients. I just want to say how fantastic all the staff and people involved were.’
Tributes flood in
Health leaders and politicians were quick to pay tribute to the doctors, nurses and other public servants who helped.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens described them as displaying ‘immense personal bravery’.
He said: ‘I would like to just start, given what happened, the terrible events of yesterday afternoon, by using this opportunity to thank the staff across the NHS in London who responded so brilliantly to the terrorist outrage in Westminster.
‘The fact is that this was not just paramedics and ambulance crew but staff from St Thomas’ hospital running across Westminster Bridge into potential danger. I think that really demonstrates not only the professional skill of all our staff across the NHS but also immense personal bravery.’
Five people died and more than 50 were injured in the terrorist attack after a man drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed police officer Keith Palmer to death outside Parliament.
In total 68 paramedics and ambulance crew from the London ambulance service were involved in treating the wounded, scores of doctors and nurses helped and five hospitals: St Mary’s, Chelsea and Westminster, King’s College, Royal London and St Thomas’ were used to treat victims.
Speaking to Parliament on Thursday prime minister Theresa May said: ‘And we will remember the exceptional bravery of our police, security and emergency services who once again ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way.
‘On behalf of the whole country, I want to pay tribute to them for the work they have been doing to reassure the public, treat the injured and bring security back to the streets of our capital city.’
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told the BBC he had seen ‘medics run into danger’. He asked the public not to ‘give up on our values [or] give into fear’, adding that there was ‘lots to be proud of’.
Read more from Peter Blackburn and follow on Twitter.