Norfolk Accident Rescue Service saving lives for 50 years
- Credit: Archant
With Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS) celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, we are excited to kick off our week-long series focussing on the local medical charity today. Here, chairman Chris Neil explores the fascinating history of NARS and explains why the work they do is so essential to the community.
Let’s rewind all the way back to 1970 – seatbelts and air bags were not yet mandatory in motor vehicles and pre-hospital care as we now understand it did not exist. Ambulances were staffed by individuals trained to drive, rather than administer care. If you were in a traffic collision at 40mph, your chances of survival were dramatically lower than today.
Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS) was established on 1 October 1970 to provide medical assistance at car crashes. Today, with its base in Dereham, its mission is to protect human life by relieving sickness and injury through the provision of dedicated critical care teams and community first responders – whether that involves road traffic collisions, cardiac arrests, falls, industrial accidents or any other health emergency.
For decades NARS operated as a stealth service, with more than 200 GPs responding to call-outs from their homes or surgeries, though doctors could not legally run red lights in order to administer life-saving care in time. The invisibility of the stealth service meant that the fantastic work of volunteers went under the radar, with little public consciousness of the organisation. And when you consider the fact that NARS relies on donations to fund its service, this anonymity posed a major problem.
Unfortunately, this unfamiliarity with NARS continues today, as many assume that the service is part of the traditional ambulance care provided by the state. However, this is not the case. NARS has saved thousands of lives in Norfolk, yet it is entirely funded by donations and receives no government support.
Chris Neil is chairman and clinical mentor at NARS – both voluntary roles he performs in his spare time. Chris first heard about NARS in 1993 during his time working in Marham as a paramedic in the Royal Air Force, signing up to help NARS in 2007.
“Though we are fortunate to have a professional ambulance service in the UK, it doesn’t provide critical pre-hospital care within the region,” Chris says. “NARS was introduced to deliver a greater level of support and expertise at emergencies.”
NARS volunteers are skilled practitioners – whether they are doctors, clinicians or specially trained advanced paramedics – provided with equipment needed to be able to respond directly from home in their own car. Some of the extra equipment, drugs and therapies provided by NARS are otherwise available only in hospital. By advancing the level of care and offering treatments that are not part of the NHS service, NARS increases patients’ chances of survival.
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“Our response units provide non-invasive ventilation for those suffering from respiratory arrest, for example,” Chris explains. “Not only does that improve survival rates, but if we act early enough it reduces admission into hospitals.
“Critical care is about bringing additional equipment and medication to the scene of an emergency, but the main thing is the knowledge our volunteers bring – they understand how to manage patients like they would in intensive care.”
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In addition to their medical expertise, volunteers are decision-makers with leadership training.
“These skills are crucial in an emergency,” Chris explains. “Making the right decision at the right time about how to manage the situation is more powerful than any drug.
“Norfolk is very rural, which means that journey times to hospital can be prolonged. We’ve got responders at all levels who live out in these areas with vehicles that can support people in their time of crisis, including doctors, critical care paramedics, nurses and first responders.
“We invest every penny back in to the patients of Norfolk. If you donate to NARS, you are giving back to the community.”