Page last updated at 10:31 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Volunteers relied on as 999 crews

The Great Western Ambulance Service said it has to rely on the continued use of voluntary organisations to allow it to respond to emergency calls.

The admission follows strong criticism of GWAS by the Care Quality Commission which accused it of failing to arrive at 999 call outs quickly enough.

The service has been rated as "weak" for the third year running.

John Oliver of GWAS said members of St John Ambulance and the Red Cross were regularly deployed to emergencies.

It simply isn't possible to have paramedics or ambulances in every village
John Oliver, GWAS

"Last week the outside and voluntary agencies represented about 6% of the shifts we provided.

"Voluntary community responders are widely used by all ambulance services particularly those with large rural areas," said Mr Oliver.

"It simply isn't possible to have paramedics or ambulances in every village.

"It's important to stress this isn't instead of an ambulance, it's for those vital few minutes while we're getting to a casualty."

Jeremy Hughes, Commissioner for St John Ambulance Service in Avon said: "I don't believe we are a stand-in for a paramedic.

Community responders

"If we have a vehicle and an emergency comes in within a couple of minutes, I think it's only right that we go to help in the initial stages and then have a paramedic back them up five, 10 minutes later."

The union representing ambulance workers, Unison, is also concerned that some ambulances are being staffed by emergency care assistants rather than more highly trained paramedics.

Ian Whittern from Unison said the practice should be examined.

"Up to two years ago you had to have a fully trained crew of two to attend a 999 call.

"Changes occurred at Whitehall level to allow the service to use community responders.

"The reality is these people are the equivalent of PCSOs and when we crew them together we're putting out a crew that's less qualified than it was 40 years ago."

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