Our crisis-hit ambulance service is considering using volunteer and military drivers

PUBLISHED: 08:30 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:03 10 August 2018

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust is considering using community first responders to drive ambulances. Picture: EEAST

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust is considering using community first responders to drive ambulances. Picture: EEAST

Archant

Our struggling ambulance service is considering using volunteers to drive frontline ambulances in a bid to tackle a staffing crisis.

The unprecedented move by the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust would see ambulances driven by community first responders, who are volunteers trained to respond to local emergency calls and provide life-saving first aid before an ambulance arrives.

In an internal email, the NHS trust’s senior leadership says it wants feedback from CFRs on how they could be further used. This includes proposals for them driving frontline ambulances in “low acuity patient” cases, as well as responding to patient falls.

The ideas floated have raised concerns over patient safety, with paramedics questioning what would happen if a patient suddenly deteriorated and needed to be blue-lighted to hospital. The NHS trust does not intend to train CFRs to drive on blue lights.

Using the military has also been suggested as an option, as the ambulance service looks at how it can plug staffing gaps ahead of winter pressures.

An ambulance service spokesman said: “While it is well-known that readiness protocols like this exist in the event of extreme circumstances, this is not at all reflective of current planning arrangements.”

Last winter saw delayed response times trigger a risk summit involving NHS England after claims 40 patients were harmed or died due to ambulance delays over Christmas and new year.

The risk summit identified a raft of key actions, including deploying additional staff and vehicles.

Last month, health watchdog the Care Quality Commission rated the NHS trust as ‘requires improvement’, saying it was failing to meet legal requirements when it comes to safe care and treatment, staffing and governance.

The 19 clinical commissioners in the east of England have agreed a six-year contract with the ambulance service which will see a rise in funding from £213.5m in 2017/18 to £225m in 2018/19 and up to £240m in 2019/20.

Capital funding of £6.5 million has also been secured as part of a nationwide funding boost from the Department of Health and Social Care, and will be used to create a network of modern hubs and community ambulance stations at 10 sites, including Stevenage.

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