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Australia learns from our paramedics

PUBLISHED: 10:47 07 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:58 22 October 2010

An East Anglian initiative to put specially-trained paramedics in rural communities could be copied in an even more sparsely populated part of the world - 12,000 miles away in Australia.

By Mark Nicholls

Health Correspondent

An East Anglian initiative to put specially-trained paramedics in rural communities could be copied in an even more sparsely populated part of the world - 12,000 miles away in Australia.

Three-hour ambulance response times are not uncommon in some of the more remote parts of New South Wales in the south eastern part of Australia.

And in many rural communities there is no full-time doctor and a 90-minute drive to the nearest hospital.

It was that which prompted Graham McCarthy, clinical education manager for the Ambulance Service of New South Wales (ASNSW), to travel to the East Anglian Ambulance Service's headquarters (EAAS) to find out more.

“We started to look at your community paramedic and Emergency Care Practitioner programmes because you have similar issues to us,” he said, having also visited the London Ambulance Service to see how they deal with more urban issues.

Community paramedics work from GP surgeries, mostly in rural communities, responding to 999 calls but also treating patients in their homes and for minor injuries to try to prevent an unnecessary ambulance call and hospital admission.

ECPs have more advanced diagnostic skills and work alongside GPs in out of hours care, with skills to prescribe some drugs and suture minor wounds. A doctor is always available to consult, in person or on the telephone.

“We have nothing similar at the moment,” said Mr McCarthy. “In many rural communities in New South Wales the bank has gone, the local GP who's been there forever retires and nobody wants to go there and replace him and the last bastion of healthcare is the ambulance service.

“People wander into the ambulance station with all sorts of ailments. One of the most common requests is for fish hook removal because they don't want to drive 80kms to the nearest hospital.”

While the EAAS is the most rural ambulance service in England; it could fit inside NSW's 500,000 square mile area 100 times.

ASNSW has 3,500 ambulance officers covering that vast territory, only three times the number serving East Anglia's 5,000 square miles.


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