THEY can’t give so much as a Paracetamol or a dose of Calpol, but they could be the first on the scene of a life and death situation.
That’s the fear of one concerned paramedic, who fears new rules allowing emergency care assistants to drive rapid response vehicles could cost lives.
As a result of the merger of Gloucestershire’s ambulance service, Great Western, in to the South West Ambulance Service Trust, changes are being made which concern some on the frontline.
One paramedic fears that non-clinical emergency care assistants could be stranded on their own in a life-threatening situation.
“We have been told there is back-up on the phone from clinical staff but I have tried that line and sometimes it doesn’t get picked up for quite some time,” said the Gloucestershire paramedic, who did not wish to be named.
“And likewise they say a paramedic or ambulance technician will be dispatched at the same time. In busy periods, I can’t see how that will happen.
“I am not doing ECAs down - they do a good job - but they are not clinically trained and this could put them and patients in a very difficult position.
“They can’t help with drugs - not even a Paracetamol, Calpol or a nebuliser.”
He accepts it’s not new for ECAs to staff double-crew ambulances but they have not staffed rapid response vehicles before.
The trust said the change is being made so ECAs can help young children more quickly - clinical advice will always be at hand by phone and clinical staff will be sent at the same time.
“Staff are currently extremely concerned by a policy which has just been introduced to help to sort the current response failings and qualified staff shortfalls,” said the paramedic.
“The service is, where necessary, going to staff emergency frontline ambulances with non-clinical emergency care assistant staff. This is not a new concept but historically these ambulances would be sent to pre-triaged, very low risk calls.
“The new policy states ‘they will be sent to all categories of emergencies’.
“These staff are non clinical, have no accountability, and are unable to administer any drugs.
“The policy also states that on occasion they will be placed on rapid response vehicles as a first response.
“Rapid response vehicles are the primary response to life-threatening emergencies, at times needing rapid clinical intervention. This we believe is utterly inappropriate and in short, a disgrace.”
Crews are supposed to respond to the most serious calls within eight minutes in least 75 per cent of cases but that target is only being met in Gloucester and Cheltenham - not in the county’s rural areas.
A South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) spokesman said responding to medical emergencies is often time critical and it will always dispatch the nearest available resource.
“Emergency care assistants are trained in life saving skills and will be deployed to respond to a 999 call if they are the nearest resource,” he said.
“Back-up will always be deployed immediately to support the ECAs where they are likely to be first on scene. Clinical advice is always available to all staff, including ECAs, from the control room and from SWASFT’s senior clinical team on the radio. This support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“This policy is not new but has been revised to enable ECAs to respond to emergencies involving children under eight-years-old, at which point simultaneous back-up from the next nearest available paramedic will also be deployed. This will help to ensure that poorly children receive the fastest response.”
He said ECA ‘overwhelmingly supported the proposal’.
“ECAs across the trust are very supportive of the changes,” he said.
“Many staff told us that they welcomed this addition to the policy - ‘It would be terrible to know that we were closest to a poorly child but unable to respond’.
“It is a shame that this one individual does not support the move. SWASFT is very willing to discuss their concerns with them directly.”