Graphic: East Anglia’s community first responders look set to get extra support

Community First Reponder.

Community First Reponder. - Credit: Evening News © 2009

The region's network of lifesaving volunteers look set to benefit from extra support after the East of England Ambulance Service's new CEO gave his backing to a series of recommendations made more than two years ago.

First responders map

First responders map - Credit: Archant

Calls were made for more training and equipment for East Anglia's community first responders (CFR) in 2011 to bring the region in line with other ambulance trusts.

The author of a report into the service's use of volunteer responders spoke of his hope that his recommendations will be adopted by the new CEO of the ambulance service after not being acted upon by two previous chief executives.

Timothy Thirst, who is a volunteer for the Stalham and Smallburgh CFR, said the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) would be able to increase the number of groups and responder numbers if officials backed requests for more funding and support.

There are currently 270 CFR groups across the six counties, but the number of responders declined when many areas in the East of England lost their trainers in 2009, said Dr Thirst. Training has since been reinstated.

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He added that his recommendations had the support of Anthony Marsh, the new chief executive of the ambulance trust, who also remains as the CEO of the West Midlands Ambulance Service.

His report recommendations include:

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• To follow the West Midlands Ambulance Service's lead to provide extra First Person On Scene (FPOS) training for responders to be trained in fields such as maternity, advanced airway management and drug administration if they wished to enhance their skills.

• A request for EEAST to provide all volunteer first responders with high-visibility jackets, safety helmets and uniform.

• To allow first responders in the East of England to use blue flashing lights when attending emergencies, which happens in other parts of the country.

• Groups should receive help from the trust to purchase ambulance livery kits for their first responder vehicles.

• CFR groups should be supplied with ambulance radios and EEAST should reimburse mileage rates to groups and individuals on call.

Dr Thirst said the general public were 'appalled' that CFR groups had to coordinate fundraising activities to keep operational in some areas and spent a lot of time fundraising to pay for their vehicles, expenses and equipment when their time would be better spent on training or being on standby.

He added: 'With the appointment of him [Anthony Marsh] as the new chief executive, EEAST at last has someone with the necessary drive, enthusiasm and experience to lead the service forward.

'I have met with Anthony Marsh and he is very supportive of all those recommendations. We have had the first meeting and he is really making sure all the building blocks are in place. Most of that can be done quite quickly. It does save money and there is no way you can have a system that puts a paramedic and ambulance on scene in a couple of minutes. A community first responder can make the situation better and will make a big difference for patients.'

Dr Thirst added that every £1 spent on first responders by ambulance services equated to between £5 and £40 in increased efficiency. He added that the East Midlands Ambulance Service had bought ten vehicles for responder groups.

Lorna Hayes, regional community partnership manager for EEAST, said CFR training was regularly reviewed at the NHS trust and this year's training plan includes additional skills such as using an Epipen, paediatric basic life support, and oxygenation. She added that the use of blue lights by CFRs had not yet been discussed by the trust and their equipment was reviewed on a regular basis.

'Our volunteers provide critical clinical care when seriously ill patients most need it whilst an ambulance response is en route –we value their dedication to spending their own time volunteering for the service and the massive contribution they make to their communities which cannot be overstated. We also have a dedicated team of managers and trainers to support CFRs across the region.'

'Developing the first responder role is something we do with responders and their representatives regularly, and many of the areas that Tim's [Dr Thirst] report has flagged up - more engagement, communication, solid training, focusing on the core clinical skills required to save a life – are on our agenda.'

'Anthony Marsh has welcomed Tim's contribution to the development work we do, and when our core priorities are set out they will feed directly into our ongoing strategic work,' she said.

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