To the Australian paramedics who are marking Australia Day by starting work for the London Ambulance Service, I say thank you. My hat is off to you all.
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that there will be tough days ahead, that you will see awful things, that you may be called on the save lives in the event of another terror attack, and that you are not going to be resting on your laurels. You will also meet some amazing people who will restore your faith in humanity, both among your patients and your fellow staff members.
Some of you may not last the distance in the job and that is OK - working for the London Ambulance Service is one of the toughest jobs in this city. And I predict many of you will excel over here and go on to achieve incredible things even under trying conditions. I really hope you get to enjoy the great things about living in London on your days off - you will have earned that night at the theatre, the trip to the pub, a walk along the Southbank or whatever it is that floats your boat.
Twice I've had to call ambulances for people here in London and on both occasions, I was so impressed by the professionalism, compassion and skills of the staff. I saw paramedics quickly calm and revive one of my neighbours as she collapsed at a bus stop after a stressful time in her life, and treat another elderly neighbour who suffered a mini stroke with the good humour required when someone is ailing but does not want to go to hospital. I am proud that fellow Australians will be joining these dedicated people at a time when the London Ambulance Service is under immense pressure.
Indeed, A&E services in London and across the whole country are under pressure and many are under threat of closure. This will add to the stress of the job for the Australian paramedics who may find themselves having to treat patients in ambulances while queuing up for a cubicle at an overworked A&E department. This group of Australians will be joining the everyday heroes who already keep London's emergency services working perhaps as well as can be expected in this era of austerity, NHS mismanagement from on high, and abrogated responsibility from the Health Secretary.
It is impossible not to politicise this story for it is politicians, along with Clinical Commissioning Groups, who are making the decisions that will impact on the working lives of London's newest paramedics. Anyone who shuts down discussion on A&E departments on the grounds that it should not be a "political football" is usually someone who is responsible for undermining said A&E departments.
Here's hoping the Australian paramedics, along with those who are already working for London Ambulance Service, can just get on with doing their jobs. To see Australian paramedics on the news this morning starting work was a wonderful Australia Day alternative to the archaic, cloth-eared idiocy of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott awarding an "Australian knighthood" to Prince Philip. On the upside, as a republican, I hope this bizarre decision is just the boost the Australian republican movement needs after last year's royal visit led to Prince George being called "The Republican Slayer". Sorry, monarchists, but something has gone tragically wrong if someone who is not yet toilet-trained is influencing opinions on the state of the Australian constitution.
But I digress. Today is not a day to dwell on Tony Abbott's latest ridiculousness. It is a day to welcome Australian paramedics to London. May they love living and working here as much as I do.