Adam Gretton, Health correspondent
Saturday, January 11, 2014
The region’s beleaguered ambulance service has been accused of distorting response time statistics after it emerged that the NHS trust used volunteer first aiders to stop the clock on thousands of 999 calls.
Community First Responder (CFR) groups were called out to more emergencies last year by the East of England Ambulance Service compared with 2012, according to new figures.
Campaigners called on the ambulance service to stop “skewing” response time figures after it emerged that the organisation was using first responders to help hit targets on attending some of the most life-threatening emergencies.
First responder groups were dispatched to 22,493 emergency calls by the East of England Ambulance Service in 2013, compared with 21,760 call outs across the six counties in 2012.
Calls were made to change national ambulance response targets after it emerged that the arrival of a volunteer first aider meant that the ambulance service could stop the clock, despite a qualified paramedic, technician or emergency care assistant not being on the scene.
The trust is supposed to attend to 75pc of the most urgent calls within eight minutes and get a transportable resource to 95pc of “red” category calls within 19 minutes. However, the service has failed to hit targets in the last year.
Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and health minister, said he was meeting with NHS bosses to change ambulance response targets to stop ambulance trusts from distorting priorities to hit targets.
“I have enormous respect for first responders and they do an absolutely vital role, but they absolutely should not be used to massage statistics to meet targets,” he said.
Denise Burke, prospective parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk and Act on Ambulances campaigner, added: “Community First Responders do an excellent job, especially in rural areas, and should be praised for the valuable work they do to save lives. But it is surprising to hear that the East of England Ambulance Trust include CFR attendances in their overall ambulance service response time figures. This disguises the reality of already poor response times and means that the trust is missing its targets by even more than we have been led to believe.”
There are 65 CFR groups in Norfolk and 60 in Suffolk. The Norfolk groups attended 4,019 call outs last year, compared with 3,788 in 2012. The Suffolk groups attended less 999 calls in 2013 (5,141), compared with 5,861 the year before.
Lorna Hayes, regional community partnership manager for the ambulance service, said: “I am very proud to have our CFRs out there helping the ambulance service. They work extremely hard and make a massive contribution to their communities. We always need more help and you can make it your New Year’s resolution to join us and gain the skills to give something back to your local area.”
Rachel Hiller, coordinator of the Diss Community First Responder group, added that she did not believe the trust was taking advantage of volunteer responders.
“We stop the clock, but we never see it like that. We see it as being there and helping colleagues in the ambulance service to bring help as fast as possible. Over the last six years we have found them very nice to deal with. They automatically dispatch another resource, but we do not know what it is going to be, it could be a single paramedic or a double staffed ambulance,” she said.
For more information about the CFR scheme, visit www.eastamb.nhs.uk/get-involved/community-first-responders.htm