Need an ambulance? You may get a fire engine: pilot 999 scheme set to launch in Norfolk

Robert Morton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust.

Robert Morton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust. - Credit: Su Anderson

Dial 999 for an ambulance in parts of Norfolk next month, and a fire engine may turn up.

A pilot scheme, aimed at saving more lives, is about to launch at a handful of fire stations across the county, with Suffolk to follow soon afterwards.

It will see firefighters sent to treat patients in cardiac arrest who are unconscious and not breathing.

The move comes as the under-pressure East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust battles to improve poor response times and get help to people faster, especially in rural areas such as north Norfolk.

The six-month trial will start in the middle of June at fire stations in Great Yarmouth, Gorleston, King's Lynn, Sheringham, North Walsham and three in Norwich.

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An ambulance trust spokesman stressed that the fire service would only be asked to attend cardiac arrest incidents and that an ambulance would always be sent as well.

'No-one will get taken to hospital in a fire engine,' he added.

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Robert Morton, chief executive of the ambulance trust,revealed details of the 'co-response' scheme at a meeting of the North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) yesterday.

'The important thing is to get the right help there as fast as possible, and that doesn't have to be an ambulance,' said Mr Morton.

Community First Responders would also be dispatched to help.

Firefighters are trained in basic first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and their engines carry defibrillators which shock a patient's heart to

help it restore a normal rhythm.

The scheme, which is common practice in France, was launched by the trust in Essex a fortnight ago.

It also began this week in March and Ramsey, Cambridgeshire.

The trust spokesman said an emergency in Cromer town centre yesterday lunchtime was the sort of situation which might result in the ambulance service calling on its locally-based firefighting colleagues.

A man in his 80s collapsed and was in cardiac arrest, unconscious and not breathing.

In this instance an ambulance crew had been on the scene in under two minutes.

Medics managed to restart his heart before he was airlifted by the East Anglian Air Ambulance to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in a critical condition.

But yesterday's swift arrival by the ambulance trust was out of the ordinary for north Norfolk, according to latest statistics.

The district, which has the worst response times in the whole of the region, has slumped from 51.52pc of the most serious Red 1 calls being answered in eight minutes in October 2015, to 35.85pc this February. The national target is 75pc.

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