Could you save lives in future?

FOR most of the time Community Responders are rather ordinary people - living normal lives with normal jobs and normal routines. But every now and again, when a certain call comes, they become lifesavers.

FOR most of the time Community Responders are rather ordinary people - living normal lives with normal jobs and normal routines. But every now and again, when a certain call comes, they become lifesavers.

Today, five years after the county's first scheme was set up, health reporter HAZEL BYFORD found out how more ordinary people are desperately needed to help out.

FACT: The number of 999 calls to the ambulance service in Suffolk has more than doubled over the past decade.

Fact: Every minute lost in getting to cardiac arrest patients gives them a 10per cent less chance of survival.

Fact: You can make a difference.

It's true. While paramedics are quite rightly often the hailed heroes for saving people's lives, quietly helping out from the wings are an army of volunteers.

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Community Responders are volunteers called to 999 emergencies when they can reach the scene quicker than ambulance crews.

They usually arrive five to six minutes earlier, and give first aid until the crew arrives - often saving lives.

Responders will go out to life-threatening emergencies near their homes including heart attacks, chest pains, cardiac arrests, fits and breathing problems, but not to dangerous situations like road accidents, fights or childbirth.

They are trained in a number of first aid procedures but have particular success with heart attack and cardiac arrest patients. For example, when people have a heart attack in the home environment, or at work, the national survival rate is around five per cent. Data shows that due to Community Responder schemes, here in Suffolk the figure is around 16pc.

The first Responder scheme set up in Suffolk was in East Bergholt in 2001. Since then 45 schemes, of at least five volunteers, have been set up across Suffolk and Waveney.

Back in 2001 responders in Suffolk were called an average of eight times a month. Last year the average was 421 - with 5,055 attendances between April last year and March this year.

Jon Needle, the scheme coordinator in Suffolk, said: “The vast majority of our volunteers start with no medical experience. They are people who just want to make a difference in the community.

“In the last two months alone there have been three cases I'm aware of where there's been a cardiac arrest and responders have turned up and got a pulse going. That's the difference people can make.

“We always need more volunteers. Recruitment is a real struggle. While everyone's welcome if they fit the criteria, we would really like some younger people.

“People can give as much or as little time as they want. The biggest commitment we ask from them is to go on a training weekend. The biggest fears of volunteers are that they will make patients worse, and they don't know what they are going out to, but it's not difficult and new recruits get buddied up with someone with experience.”

Responders are expected to undergo regular training. Recently, volunteers have been trained to use glucose gel for diabetics with low blood sugar levels who are having hypoglycaemic episodes.

Each team has a kit of two bags - one with a defibrillator (an electronic device used to stabilise the heartbeat) and bandages, the other with oxygen and airway management equipment. The teams, which can include doctors and anaesthetists, have a mobile phone for 999 control rooms to contact them.

The Evening Star reported earlier this month how 999 calls for ambulances in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge rose from 88,185 in 1996/97 to 194,235 in 2006/07.

The East of England Ambulance Trust said we now live in a more risk-averse society where people are much quicker to dial 999 than 10 years ago, there are more drink/drug related incidents, there is a public perception of poor access to GPs out of hours services and more people call because of an increase in mobile phone use.

Mr Needle is also overseeing a government funded programme where 240 defibrillators are being set up in public places in East Anglia. So far, they have been placed at sites including Ipswich Railway Station, Ipswich's Crown Pools swimming pool, Tesco at Martlesham and Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House.

Mr Needle said: “It's important to get defibrillators out there as there will never be an ambulance on every street corner. The ambulance trust has a commitment to keep the schemes running -we are here to stay now.

“Speaking to the volunteers, many tell me the public are surprised they exist.

“We go out and advertise at groups and organisations, like school fetes, but people say they've never heard of us.”

N Have you been helped by a community responder? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

EACH month the lifesavers at Stowmarket Community Responders attend between 40 and 60 call outs.

The group was launched in May 2005 and has since become a valued part of the town's and surrounding area's community.

Steve Mayhew, of Harleston, who heads the group, said: “I can't put numbers on how many people we have helped but we do have three successful resuscitations to our name - that's three people who are walking around that wouldn't be if it wasn't for our team

“Just before Christmas I was called out to a gentleman called Dave Norman, of Buxhall, who was having chest pains. I recognised he was having a heart attack, administered oxygen and stabilised him until the paramedics arrived.

“They took him to hospital and he survived and then a couple of months ago he contacted us to say thank you and the story was featured in the Evening Star.”

The team now has ten responders, including Mr Mayhew's wife Bev. It is one of the busiest teams in Suffolk.

Mr Mayhew, by day a fork lift driver at Felixstowe docks, said: “We launched in 2005 one evening at 9pm and by midnight had already been out three times.”

N

Anyone interested in joining the team can call Mr Mayhew on 07810 113298 or e-mail stowresponders@btinternet.com

N Aged 18 to 70

N Physically fit

N Agree to a criminal record bureau check

N Have a full driving licence and use of a car

N Agree to undertake training

IN 1996 the Evening Star launched its Ambulancewatch campaign, to campaign for a better ambulance service.

It was launched after an ambulance took 40-minutes to reach heart attack victim Brian Woolnough.

The campaign resulted in the organisation's chief executive resigning in 2001, and a public inquiry being launched into failings.

It was needed again when David Halley-Frame died after an ambulance took more than half an hour to reach him after an asthma attack in 2005, Terri Calvesbert had to be taken to hospital by police after she suffered burns in 1998 because there was no ambulance available, and police had to take Ricardo Wells to hospital with a severed artery in his arm earlier this year, because an ambulance did not arrive quick enough.

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