Page last updated at 23:14 GMT, Sunday, 19 April 2009 00:14 UK

Volunteers aid emergency response

When you dial 999 for an ambulance are you absolutely clear on who will walk through your door?

It could be an ambulance crew or one of a growing number of 'First Responders' - community volunteers trained in basic first aid.

First Responders will help you until an ambulance arrives but as BBC Scotland's Health Correspondent Eleanor Bradford found out, doctors and paramedics want tighter controls on their use.

Emergency scene
Ambulances must get to 75% of urgent "'category A" calls within eight minutes

First Responder schemes have been particularly promoted in rural areas where an ambulance may be a long way away, and a local resident can give first aid until it arrives.

However a BBC Radio Scotland documentary, has revealed the arrival of a First Responder counts towards official ambulance response times.

First started in 1998, volunteers are trained in the use of a defibrillator, oxygen, and first aid but are not allowed to give drugs or attend certain incidents, such as those involving children.

There are already 60 schemes in Scotland and they are seeking to recruit more volunteers.

Doctors' leaders and ambulance representatives say while they support the idea of "First Responders" they should not be allowed to "stop the clock" and help meet government targets.

The Scottish Ambulance Service has to get to 75% of urgent "category A" calls within eight minutes in order to meet government targets.

It met this target for 2008/9, but in rural areas many people faced longer waits because the nearest ambulance was many miles away.

Rural waits

In Wales, concerns have already been raised about misuse of First Responder schemes.

Welsh paramedic and branch secretary for the Unite union, Bleddyn Roberts said: "I think they shouldn't be part of the ambulance figures. It tends to give a false impression."

He is also concerned First Responders have been sent to incidents they have not been trained for.

He added: "We do know that some have been sent to road traffic accidents, for example."

Scott Bateman is founder of the First Response charity, which operates throughout the UK.

Mr Bateman said ambulance response times were an NHS issue and First Response's priority was to deliver care before the arrival of an ambulance.

Ambulance car
There are already 60 First Responder schemes in Scotland

He said: "If that happens to be within the ambulance service's response time then so be it. I mean this isn't about statistics, this is about improving patient care in communities, where ambulances are not necessarily readily available.

"If you actually truly need an ambulance or someone with a defibrillator I don't think you'll really care who that person is if they arrive within two to three minutes rather 15 to 20 minutes."

In the village of Kinloch Rannoch in Perthshire some residents are fighting proposals to introduce First Responders.

They lost GP cover out-of-hours when their local doctor retired and the local health board is proposing First Responders along with on-call doctors based in Pitlochry, 20 miles away.

"A doctor is really needed in a remote and rural community like this," said Veronica Grosset, a retired midwife and local resident.

"By the time a First Responder comes out, then an ambulance comes out, it could be a considerably long time before someone gets anywhere near a hospital.

"We're concerned that lives will be lost if we go down that line."

The Scottish Ambulance Service said First Responders currently contribute to 0.5% of 999 calls, and stressed that an ambulance is always requested at the same time as a First Responder.

First Responders say they are not just providing a service to meet targets.


First aiders help response times

Kevin Walker, a First Responder based in Leuchars in Fife, said: "Having attended six or seven cardiac arrests where we've had to breathe for somebody for 20 minutes waiting for a crew, I'd have to argue that they would have been dead if I hadn't been there."

His colleague Niki Harrison added: "If you've got two ambulances tied up doing a transfer of a seriously injured patient, that could take 40 minutes, through no fault of their own.

"If we can be near the scene of an accident then that's all good".

The Investigation: First Responders is on BBC Radio Scotland at 0900 BST, Monday 20 April, and at 2300 BST on Newsnight Scotland on BBC One Scotland.

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