Second whistleblower says under-fire ambulance trust is also using volunteer community first responders to hit targets
A paramedic’s decision to blow the whistle on the East of England Ambulance Service has encouraged a former volunteer to speak out about why he quit his role at the trust.
Still in the spotlight from the accusation that it is jeopardising patient safety by sending rapid response cars to the most serious jobs instead of ambulances to hit response time targets, the trust is now facing claims that it is also using community first responders (CFRs) to “stop the clock”.
Speaking to this newspaper on condition of anonymity, the man said he gave up his position as a CFR a year ago because he was not getting enough support from clinically trained professionals when dealing with critically ill patients.
He said: “I quit because it was just getting worse and worse. When the 111 service first got introduced it was just crazy, call volume went up about 50% and the ambulance service filled that gap with emergency technicians.
“Then it just progressively got worse. The main problem I found was the clock stops with us. When the first responder is on the scene the clock stops and then you can be waiting for an ambulance for 45 minutes and the problem you have is you get told in training when you go an ambulance is sent at the same time, and that is true but they very regularly stand down and get sent to other jobs. Then you are just sat waiting.
“I think more and more they are sending first responders to stop the clock. First responders do a great job and we do it to try and help the community but at the same time they shouldn’t be used to stop the clock because we are not a paramedic and we can’t do the things that a paramedic can do.”
The man said the longest he had waited with a patient for back-up from a medic was an hour and a half.
A CFR is a volunteer who is trained by the ambulance trust to give first aid to a critically ill patient in the area where they live or work until an ambulance crew arrives to take over treatment. They can use a defibrillator and are typically placed in rural areas where it may take longer for paramedics to reach.
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CFRs are sent to category one incidents, which currently make up around half of all emergency calls to the ambulance service and require a response within eight minutes.
However, this autumn the targets are set to be changed so fewer incidents fall under this top bracket, which will drop to seven minutes under the new system.
Patients with conditions including suspected stroke or heart attack - who were previously expected to have a paramedic on the scene within eight minutes - will now have a typical wait of no more than 18 minutes.
A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “Community first responders play an extremely important role in responding to life threatening emergencies in the immediate minutes afterwards within their communities. In some cases their quick response has been the difference between life and death.
“When someone is in cardiac arrest, every minute counts. Effective CPR and early use of a defibrillator by any appropriately trained person can greatly increase the chances of survival when someone is unconscious and not breathing.”
In the current financial year to date, the East of England Ambulance Service has reached 73.51% of the most serious incidents within eight minutes, just shy of the national target of 75%.