Nottingham ambulance technician with dyslexia who taught himself to read now saves lives

At the age of 20, Richard Henton couldn’t read or write due to his dyslexia. Now, he has fulfilled his life-long dream of becoming a Technician for East Midlands Ambulance Service and has been chosen to tutor new students. This is his story.

Richard claims he has the best job in the world.

banner ad

The 39-year-old from Nottingham says it’s because he gets to save lives, deliver babies into the world, and be there for patients and their families in their hour of need, every day.

But 10 years ago, Richard was sat in a hospital canteen pretending he could understand the sports pages of the newspaper, desperately trying to teach himself how to read.

Joining the ambulance service had been the ultimate goal for Richard since the age of eight, when he was treated to a look round Beechdale ambulance station – the station he is now based at.

But when he announced his ambitions at school, he wasn’t taken seriously.

Richard said: “They told me I couldn’t do it. They said ‘the ambulance service can have anyone – why would they choose you? Only the cleverest people get to join’.

“I thought I was useless. I was illiterate, and ashamed to admit it, but no-one would help.”

Richard was diagnosed with dyslexia at 11, and there was very little support available. His school’s solution was a ‘life skills’ class which taught struggling pupils about surviving prison and how to sign up for benefits.

Despite these challenges, Richard’s determination to join the ambulance service didn’t waver. At 19, Richard got his first job in the NHS – folding sheets in the laundry room at Nottingham City Hospital.

But the job wasn’t as straightforward as he was hoping.

He said: “On my first day I walked in and realised I couldn’t read any of the hospital signs, so I didn’t know where any of the laundry needed to go. I tried to match the symbols of the words to work it out, but it took me twice as long to get my work done. I knew I had to teach myself to read.

  Gold sovereigns stolen in Nottinghamshire burglary

“I would watch a football match one evening, and then buy a paper the next morning and read from the back, trying to learn how to read based on knowing what happened in the match.

“In time, I started being able to read more and more of the paper, and 10 years later I was able to read a newspaper cover to cover.”

After 12 years the laundry, kitchen and logistics departments in the hospital, Richard became a porter. His next ambition was to get some clinical skills, but sadly, he failed the written test as a result of his dyslexia.

Yet it just took one night in the X-Ray department of Queen’s Medical Centre to change Richard’s life.

He explained: “There was a new young doctor on his first night shift. I was just waiting for the X-Ray to finish so I could take the patient back to their ward when the doctor came running out shouting ‘he’s gone’.

“I grabbed the arrest trolley, did CPR and got the pads on the patients, and we saved his life.

“One of the nurses sat me down with a cup of tea afterwards and said ‘that man is alive because of what you did’, and she got me a job as a Clinical Support Worker.”

Richard’s new role enabled him to assist patients by inserting cannulas and attaching ECG machines.

In 2014, Richard joined the NEMS Out of Hours service in Nottingham to build up further experience, and he applied for the EMAS trainee technician role. On 10 August 2015, at the age of 34, he received the phone call he had been waiting for his whole life.

“I was in the fracture clinic at the time and was expecting bad news, so I stepped outside. They said to me ‘Welcome to the ambulance service’ and I just fell to my knees. I had done it.”

  Update: Body found in Nottingham ‘not being treated as suspicious’

Richard explained that as soon as he got to EMAS he received the support for his dyslexia that he had needed all his life – the assessments showed he was severely dyslexic, so he received exam support in the form of a reader and writer as well as 25% extra time.

“No-one at EMAS wants you to fail. At the beginning of the course they said if anyone had any additional learning needs just to let the tutors know, so I did, and I had all this support. EMAS has never given up on me.”

Although Richard failed a couple of his exams during his course, he persevered and was able to retake them. He joined the rest of his cohort in passing the course and becoming fully-fledged Technicians.

He said: “I was a bit worried that the crews out on the road would take the mick out of me for taking longer to do paperwork, but all my crew mates have been supportive.

“It’s made me proud to be me, and I’m able to focus on helping my patients. I wish I had had the courage to apply for the service earlier.”

Richard has been invited to be an associate tutor and now supports and mentors students joining the service. He is also looking at doing a university degree.

“You don’t realise how many amazing paramedics, technicians and managers are dyslexic in the ambulance service – it blew my mind.

“They say never meet your heroes, but I get to work with mine every day.”

Our service is committed to ensuring that we pro-actively advance equalities by ensuring an inclusive and supportive workplace, where employees with a disability or health condition are able to be open about their disabilities or condition and are valued as an individual for their skills and contribution to the organisation.