Quiet heroes speak out for extra help

VOLUNTEERS with the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service would have been happy not to have done this interview. They are content to go about their work saving lives without attention and publicity.

VOLUNTEERS with the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service would have been happy not to have done this interview. They are content to go about their work saving lives without attention and publicity.

But the organisation has reached a point where it needs help. Health reporter HAZEL BYFORD met up with two members on a recruitment drive.

UP to his knees in mud, amid the chaos of a road accident and with only two hours sleep behind him, ask consultant Jeremy Mauger why he volunteers for such situations and he'll say “for the love of the job”.

Mr Mauger is one of a shrinking list of Suffolk Accident Rescue Service (SARS) volunteers who are on call to help out at medical emergencies.

His work is unpaid, he is on call 24/7 and most people do not even know the job exists, let alone give him recognition. But Mr Mauger thinks he can persuade other health professionals to join him.

SARS have been on the scene in Suffolk since 1972 but membership has declined, particularly among GPs.

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Mr Mauger, a full-time consultant anaesthetist at Bury St Edmunds' West Suffolk Hospital and chairman of SARS, said: “I don't think most people on the street know who we are but it's nice to be anonymous and be able to get on and do a job.

“Having said that, it's not so helpful at times like this, when we need to raise money and get as many volunteers back into the system as we can. I admit, when you have been at work, perhaps in a surgery full of patients all day, and then you go home and the next thing you're in the middle of dinner and there's a multi-vehicle pile up, you need some dedication to want to go out.

“But there are advantages which outweigh that. You get lots of extra training for starters and you are doing the things you went into medicine for. You are making a humanitarian difference and improving the quality of care on offer.

“It costs, in time and money, but we get a lot of satisfaction back.”

More than two-thirds of call-outs made to SARS are for road accidents, but they also attend sporting accidents, cardiac arrests and other medical emergencies, psychiatric incidents, obstetric emergencies and accidents on water.

They work in partnership with the emergency services, particularly the East of England Ambulance Service, but statistics show they arrive at the scene quicker than paramedics at 45per cent of the incidents they attend.

SARS were on the scene of the horror A14 crash at Coddenham in February which saw Portuguese man Jose Gomes Costa, 30, and his eight-year-old daughter Erica Martins Andrade killed when they were thrown from their car after a collision. That horror was just one of around 300 call out SARS will go to this year.

Mr Mauger, who moved to Bury St Edmunds in 2001 and has been involved with SARS since, said the needs for medical expertise “in the field” is growing.

He said: “Immediate care is moving away from hospitals. We need anaesthetists and specialist doctors from hospitals out in the field.

“As time has gone by paramedics have developed more and more skills and in many cases they are the people you need, and they have the equipment and training. Occasionally where there are casualties, extra pain relief skills and clinical diagnostic skills are a lot more important and you need people such as anaesthetists.

“We have to keep upping our game. Paramedics are being trained to a higher level and for us to offer a service it's necessary for us to keep looking for specialist volunteers and the training they have had keeps us at the top.”

SARS is a member of the British Association for Immediate Care (BASICS). Immediate care started in Yorkshire in the mid 1960s when a group of enthusiastic GPs went out to a hazardous stretch of the A1 and took medical skills to roadside.

BASICS doctors helped when the Glasgow-bound Virgin train travelling to Scotland derailed at Cumbria in February and after the 7/7 London bombings.

BASICS' headquarters is in Turret Lane, Ipswich, where SARS is based, but SARS still find it difficult to recruit volunteers in the area.

Mr Mauger, who started doing BASICS work in 1996 with BASICS London and London's air ambulance, said: “We are desperate to engage interest in the Ipswich area. A lot of our membership is mid Suffolk and beyond and it means a lot of travelling across county.

“We want new people to join us from across the county, but particularly need it in and around Ipswich. There are two levels. Any GPs can be equipped with a defibrillator and asked to be on call when something happens nearby, although they might not be called very often.

“Equally, we need more advanced in-hospital training, such as anaesthetists.”

SARS will provide training and equipment for volunteers but currently finds its needing funds as well as volunteers.

Colin French, SARS administrator, said: “We are managing as we are but we don't have a bottomless pot. The majority of our funding comes from an annual appeal to parish and town councils, who continue to support us year after year.

“Not only do our volunteers give up their time but SARS don't pay petrol money or provide servicing for vehicles and they do driver training in their own time. It's a fantastic commitment.”

Mr French takes his place in Suffolk's medical history as he was the first Suffolk paramedic. He linked up with SARS in 1978, as the former Suffolk Ambulance Service's representative

He said: “The skills I had as a paramedic in those days are nothing like what they have today.”

Almost every GP practice in Ipswich was part of SARS at its early 70s meetings, but numbers slowly diminished as contract changes were introduced to surgeries.

In terms of call outs, the organisation peaked in the mid 1990s when it received 700 calls a year. Now its members, alerted by a text, call or pager message, go to 300 calls a year.

The volunteers work closely with similar schemes in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, when incidents happen close to county boundaries.

Members of SARS give talks about their work to community groups, such as women's institute groups. The groups can make a donation if they can afford it, but the talk is free.

READERS of The Evening Star have always been generous when it comes to supporting the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service (SARS).

Since 2000 you have raised a whopping £55,000 to support the team and their work.

In 2000 our Christmas appeal was Suffolk Superheroes - a bid to raise £25,000 to buy oxygen sets and defibrillators for the 56 doctors then covering Suffolk. The appeal touched so may we surpassed the target and raised £30,000.

Just two years later readers gave generously again.

A Christmas appeal called Save a Life was launched to raise £20,000, but again we flew by the target and actually raised £25,000.

The money was used to buy new communications equipment for the volunteer doctors, including satellite navigation equipment, satellite tracking equipment, pagers, mobile phones and in-car radios.

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