Christmas is almost here, and most of us will be hoping for time at home with our family and loved ones. We might also be looking forward to a festive lunch, an exchange of gifts, and perhaps a glass of sherry or two.
But as much as we might all want to join the seasonal celebrations, there is no let-up for emergency services, who remain on-call 365 days a year. So instead of settling down around the table for a spread with all the trimmings on Christmas Day, some of our staff will be doing what they always do – responding to emergency incidents and transporting critically ill patients.
Here are a few of those who will be postponing their Christmas festivities to make sure EMRTS and ACCTS continue to work around the clock over the Christmas holidays.
Carl Hudson, EMRTS Critical Care Practitioner, aged 49, from Anglesey
The dad of two, whose children are at university in Manchester and Liverpool, said: “I am in my 30th year of frontline NHS Service, with over 20 years of that working onboard the Wales Air Ambulance from the Caernarfon base, Helimed 61, having started there at the beginning of the North Wales Operations in 2003.
“Having being a frontline paramedic for pretty much my entire adult life, working Christmas Day is very much an accepted part of working life for me.
Over the years, I have worked many Christmas days, and although anyone would much rather be at home with their family than in work on Christmas Day, It’s really not at all bad.
“Due to the long hours that we work, it’s often the case that you actually see more of your work colleagues than you do of your family, so your colleagues are very much considered as your ‘work family’.
“We have a great team at my base in Caernarfon, most days there’s plenty of laughs and camaraderie to be had, and Christmas Day is certainly no exception, add into that a few silly little gifts that we buy for each of the Christmas Day crew, a decent selection of tasty treats, and usually a Christmas Dinner that has kindly been provided for us, often by a local cafe or restaurant, and the day becomes as similar to a day at home as we can make it, with the only exception being that the wine and champagne at dinner is swapped out for Blackcurrant squash and Shloer, but you can’t have everything!
“Invariably, in this line of work, there are some incredibly sad cases that we attend to, even on Christmas Day, and these events resonate with the crew even more so at this time of the year, especially as we think of those affected by the event. Once back on base, the team will often then de-brief the incident, usually with a cup of tea, and then we try our best to set it aside, so that we may be ready for whatever comes next.
“This year, for my family and I, Christmas Day will be pushed into Boxing Day which will become our Christmas Day instead, in this line of work, it is accepted by your family that your Christmas family dinner is very much a moveable feast.
“When my children were younger, we would get everyone up very early, actually, ridiculously early, 4.30am, so that we could open presents with the children and have some quality time to spend with them before heading off out to work for 12 hours.
“Nowadays, my children have all grown up and are in their twenties and will be home from university, so we shall open our presents when I return home from work on Christmas Day around 9pm, so those very early starts are no longer required….thank goodness.
“I’d say that although being at home on Christmas Day is preferable, we accept that in our career, working it is just part and parcel of the job, and it’s ‘just another day’. However, we always ensure that it is still a special one and we make the very best of it however we can.
“Hopefully, we will not be needed on the big day, because that means that everyone is safe and well, however, if we do attend an incident, although we may go home with a few remnants of the day in our minds, we will go home knowing that we have helped someone when they most needed help, and provided the very best care possible.”
Simon Cartwright, EMRTS CCP, based at Welshpool.
Simon will be spending both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - his first Christmas working for the service, having joined two years ago.
He said: “Like any other day, we will check the medical kit and equipment to ensure we are ready for the day and prepare the aircraft and rapid response vehicle. The day very much depends on whether we will be dispatched to anyone who needs us across Wales.
“We are planning on making a team Christmas roast dinner and will be eating plenty of mince pies.
“Extra efforts are made at Christmas to increase morale. We have our Christmas tree up and we do a ‘Secret Santa’ on base. It’s my first Christmas with the Wales Air Ambulance so I’m looking forward to working with the team. There’s always good camaraderie. We are a small team which thrives on supporting each other.”
Simon will work a 12-hour day from 8am to 8pm and will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day evenings with his girlfriend, her family and also his own family.
He added: “I will hopefully have some Christmas leftovers when I go home on both days - I love a Christmas dinner. I have Boxing Day off so will have a good catch up properly with everyone then. For me, the best part of working at Christmas is knowing that we are here to help someone in their time of need.”
Jez James, EMRTS CCP, aged 50.
Jez has worked for EMRTS for six years, predominantly based in Cardiff.
The dad-of-one will be working the night shift on Christmas Eve from 7pm to 7pm reviewing all of the 999 calls across Wales, identifying those which require critical care interventions. He will work with an allocator to dispatch the Wales Air Ambulance team when required.
He said: “With one aircraft that works 24/7 covering Wales in the night, my job will be to ensure our crews are sent to the most critical jobs across Wales as well as monitoring where Santa is flying in his sleigh, as we don’t want him conflicting with the helicopter and vice versa. I will be live tracking him all night.”
Jez has worked twice on Christmas Day since he has worked for Wales Air Ambulance and before that was on duty over Christmas while working as a paramedic.
He has missed several family Christmas’ including ones with his son, who is now aged 11 years.
He said: “My son is older this year, so it’s not too bad. He has asked if I can come home as soon as possible so he can open his presents. It’s not a long drive home so hopefully I will be back home early this year. I will probably come home from the shift, watch the presents being opened, have some breakfast and then go back to bed for a few hours before Christmas dinner.
“I have missed Christmas day with my son a few times, which is quite hard. They don’t stay young for long! One year, I remember watching my son open his presents on Christmas Day via Facetime. When you sign up to the job, you know working unsocial hours comes part and parcel of the job. The team are very good and will often change shifts for those with younger children at Christmas as well as on special occasions.”
“It will be s very much business as usual. We tend to have local businesses donating us food on Christmas Day which is always a massive feel-good boost. With places being closed on Christmas Day we appreciate it massively.”
“It is an extremely rewarding job, and it is a privilege to serve the people of Wales at Christmas and throughout the year.”
EMRTS CCP Corey Mead, aged 26, from Mountain Ash
Corey joined the service in January 2022, and this will be the fist time he has worked for it on Christmas Day.
“I will be working Christmas Day from 7am to 7pm on the critical care hub in Ambulance Control in Cwmbran, monitoring the 999 calls that come through.
“I usually volunteer to work at Christmas. I am not married or have children, whereas my colleagues do. I’d rather work to enable them to spend time with their families on Christmas Day.
“When I was a paramedic, I worked nearly every Christmas from the time I joined the Ambulance Service at 18 years old. I did have last year off but it has become part and parcel of my job.
“If I wasn’t working on Christmas Day, I would be at my mum’s house having Christmas dinner with my stepdad and my brother and would probably stay at hers for a few days while visiting other family members. My brother also works for the emergency services and is a 999 call handler in the Ambulance Service and he is also working too. My mum is used to us working at Christmas now!
“This year, Christmas Day will be celebrated with a family get together on Boxing Day with a dinner and all the trimmings. And then I am back to work first thing on New Year’s Day, so no New Year’s Eve parties this year!
“I will also be celebrating my Christmas the second week of January when a few of my colleagues and I go skiing along with some of our other friends and their partners.
“While I didn’t work last year, last Christmas was a busy day. I think we always gear up for a busy day.
“As I will be working on the desk looking at all the critical calls that come in for the Wales Air Ambulance rather than out on the helicopter, it will be busy. Hopefully we will have a Christmas dinner cooked for us, so even if it’s eating it on my desk, I should be able to have something festive.
“You have to be organised early when it comes to Christmas. We work anti-social hours, and when I am working in Cardiff, where the service operates 24 hours, I can be working nights shifts as well. So, with that comes tiredness and the last thing you feel like doing is heading out Christmas shopping amongst busy crowds. It is part and parcel of the job and we know that when we sign up to the job.
“I am planning to get all my present-buying done early this year!”
“It can be hard to socialise at Christmas time and there are times when I can’t make nights out with my friends. I have a group of friends from school who work 9am to 5pm jobs so it can be tricky getting everyone together when you work the hours we do, but they are very understanding and proud of what I do. I have a good group of friends in the service as well. I am living my dream job.
“Christmas is work as usual for us. Our job never stops. I have worked the majority of my career on Christmas Day and there is always great camaraderie among colleagues. Knowing I am there to hopefully save someone’s life is rewarding all year around but more so at Christmas time.
Inevitably, you get some sad, horrific calls around Christmas, which I try not to dwell on. For us, this sadly happens all the year around although naturally people seem to focus on it more over the Christmas period.
“We are a fairly small team at the Wales Air Ambulance and in the run up to Christmas in between calls we try, and all cook together and eat food together. It’s like spending Christmas with your second family.
“We usually get called to road traffic accidents, perhaps people going to see friends and family, or children who have fallen off a bike or scooter that they have had for Christmas or patients who have suffered a heart attack after Christmas dinner for example.”
Rhyan Curtin, Critical Care Practitioner, working: Cardiff
This year, Critical Care Practitioner, Rhyan Curtin, who works on board Wales Air Ambulance, will be holding his Christmas Day celebrations a day early on Christmas Eve with his three-year-old son, fiancée, and family.
It is the second time he has worked on Christmas Day since his son was born, but says he is happy to be able to serve the people of Wales when they need the service the most.
Rhyan said: “We will be having our family Christmas on Christmas Eve and will be having food, exchanging presents and being together as a family then. We still have the build up to Christmas and I am off on Boxing Day, so it is only one day. My son is still a bit too young to know so hopefully next year I will be off when he starts to know more about Christmas.
“I don’t mind working on Christmas Day, the team is very supportive and it’s like spending the day with my ‘second family.’ In some ways, it is very much the same as working a normal day. However, everyone is mindful that it is Christmas Day and if there are any difficult cases, we are there to do our job and be professional. It is a serious job, and we are unfortunately going to attend incidents in which we will have to break bad news to patients or families on Christmas Day. For some, it won’t turn out to be the Christmas they expected.
“It can be a sombre time at Christmas, and it makes you reflect about your own family even more so.
“People may think Christmas Day is quiet for the Wales Air Ambulance, but from experience, it can be a busy day. Everyone is rushing around trying to get to places, people are stressed, and they have lots to do and people to see.
“It’s a typical day and we will attend a variety of incident whether that is a RTC, a cardiac arrest or even domestic incidents.”
Rhyan will be working out of the Cardiff base from 7am to 7pm and hopes to have Christmas dinner with the crew back at the base.
“We work in a very supportive team environment, and it is nice to get together and have a mini-Christmas dinner with your ‘work family’. The mood is quite festive, and everyone is in the same position as yourself and there to do the same job.
“One of the pilots, Pete Martin will be coming in on his day off to cook Christmas dinner with his wife Sally, which will be lovely.
“I am sure there will be plenty of food and chocolates going around too.
“It is a privilege to serve the people of Wales at Christmas and throughout the year.”
Adult Critical Care Transfer Service (ACCTS) Cymru
Kirsty Holdsworth, RTP, aged 28, from Bangor.
Kirsty Holdsworth and Arwel Owen
“I have just started working for the service. I spent three years working in Aintree in Liverpool, but I just came back in July in a bank position.
“I’ve worked Christmas Days before when I was in Aintree. I would do half a day there and then travelling back home after my shift to the village of Rhostryfan where I live, and have Christmas Day there as well.
“My partner lives in Anglesey and he comes over on Christmas Day to my parents to spend the day with us, but obviously this year will be different for us.
“He’ll be spending it with his mother, and then coming over to my parents in the evening to join me.
“I’ll be working 8 to 8, with Arwel, the CCTA. The nature of the job means anything could happen, so it could be a late finish. We’ll just have to see what happens. Christmas Day tends to be busy apparently, so we’ll see.
“My mum has worked as a healthcare assistant and is working half a day anyway as well, so she understands the situation. Most of us in the family are NHS workers, so they all understand the nature of the job. My partner works for the NHS too, in non-emergency patient transport. He’s worked Christmas Eve before.
“I’m just Christmas Day then I’m off Boxing Day and New year’s eve, and I’m not working Christmas Eve, so it’s just the one day really and I’m off for the rest of the time, so it’s not too bad.
“I don’t mind working because there’s a nice Christmas atmosphere, and we’ll probably do something Christmasy on the day and share some Christmas food. We’ll just have to see how busy we are.”
Carys Nicholls, 33, Retrieval and Transfer Practitioner (RTP), aged 33, Cardiff
“Before I started working with ACCTS I was an intensive care nurse, and I have worked on Christmas Day before.
“In some respects, working on Christmas Day is just like any other day. The same job that you are doing, but there is a nice atmosphere about the place. Patients’ relatives come in to see them and there is a happy feeling.
“There’s a nice cohesive way of working where everyone is in it together. It is my second Christmas Day working with ACCTS. It was me and another RTP, we didn’t have a doctor with us.
“We had three transfers last year. One was from Singleton to Morriston and one from Morriston back to Singleton. All the jobs were fine.
“One of the pilot’s was in between night shifts last year, and his wife came in and made Christmas dinner, and we all shared that. It was between calls so we were able to have it together.
“My partner works in healthcare as well, he finishes his night shift on Christmas morning and will be sleeping on Christmas day. We generally spend the day with my side of the family, I have a young niece and nephew, so I’d spend it with them and my sister and my parents in Carmarthen.
“We are planning to go down and spend Boxing Day with them, so that will be our family Christmas Day.
“I haven’t got children and my partner is working the night before Christmas Day so he’s not going to be up for very much on Christmas Day either, so it works out and we can celebrate it on another day.”
Carys Nicholls, Prateek Verma and Paul Driscoll are all working on Christmas Day
Paul Driscoll, Critical Care Transfer Assistant, aged 57, from Penarth.
Paul has been working for ACCTS for the past six months and was previously an Emergency Medical Technician with the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust. Last year, Paul worked the night shift on Christmas day with this year being his first day shift on Christmas day.
He said: “I will be working from my usual base at Cardiff on the 8am to 8pm shift, transferring patients as and when the jobs come through to us. I have a son, but he and his family will be spending Christmas day with his wife’s family this year as we rotate where we all go for Christmas. My wife has planned to spend Christmas with her mum, and they are to have a not so traditional lunch of steak and chips, which she will also make for one of our neighbours who lives alone.
“This will be only the second time I have worked on Christmas day as I was previously in engineering and, the companies I worked for did not work on Christmas day. Last year I worked the night shift on Christmas day with the ambulance service based at Cardiff.
“I was fortunate to spend the day with my family and then after washing up once they had left, I got ready and went to work. I cannot recall what jobs I did during that shift, but it will be a different shift this year as I will not be on a front-line ambulance being called out to anything/everything, but on a transfer ambulance being called to move patients from one hospital Intensive Care Unit to another. As my son has grown up now and has a family of his own, we will celebrate Christmas with them on Boxing Day.
“Yes, this Christmas will be different for my wife and I, but we both knew that as an EMT or a CCTA, these are 24/7 roles and there would come a time when I would work on Christmas day. For us, that time is this year. Although I will be away from my family at a special time, I will be looking forward to what the shift brings in the same way as every other shift I work.”