Co-responding in the ambulance service

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2016 Health Care Service Group Conference
18 December 2015

Ambulance services are under ever-increasing pressure to balance the books and meet performance targets forcing many staff to leave their jobs through unbearable pressure and stress. Evidence submitted to the NHS Pay Review Body shows the high levels of turn over and retention of ambulance staff creating serious problems for employers.

At the same time, the Government are intent on merging the emergency services as outlined in the consultation paper “Enabling closer working between the emergency services”. Due to cuts in the fire service, they are looking for ways to work alongside the NHS providing responses to medical emergencies and we support FBU members in opposing this government’s savage cuts to emergency services.

Conference notes the huge contribution that volunteer and community first responder schemes make to patients lives in an emergency. Conference also notes that many schemes involve retained and full fire fighters responding as part of a “first response”.

There are many examples of successful co-responding schemes across the country and there is strong medial evidence that getting a defibrillator early on someone in a cardiac arrest and undertaking quality CPR (resuscitation) increases survival rates. However, most calls received are not cardiac arrests and trained ambulance staff are needed to medically treat patients. Even in a seemingly innocent fall without an injury, the patient could have collapsed and medical assessment is then necessary.

At present ambulance services are not coping with the high level of call volume and demand. There is a risk that rolling out more co-responding schemes will hide serious staffing issues and be detrimental to patient care. Co-responding schemes are not there to ‘stop the clock’ and hit targets and if used inappropriately can be a cover for cuts to services.

Conference believes that co-responding schemes must be supplementary to core cover and not at the expense of trained ambulance staff in the correct numbers, funded through the NHS. Conference further calls on the government to deal with the recruitment and retention crisis facing many patient facing roles within the ambulance service.