A Letter from Nantwich

April 2008 (4)                                                                                      Updates

We'll not roll over and die . . .

Cllr Bill McGinnis (third left) addresses members of the public at the meeting. Inset: Gavin Palin, one of the town's First Responders.

LIFE in Nantwich could get perilous for anyone who is involved in an emergency such as a heart attack or a diabetes episode, or who needs pain relief. Unless, that is, campaigners can halt a proposed change in the First Responders service on May 1.

   First Responders, as you may know, are the volunteers with full time jobs (the town's four are retained firemen) who race to the scene of an accident or attend to someone who has suffered a heart or insulin problem - or, indeed, any other emergency - before an ambulance can get to the scene. Target time: eight minutes.

   Those at the meeting were told of an ambulance which took 45 minutes to reach a serious road traffic accident because it was sent out from Wilmslow in North Cheshire where it had been on its last call out. Ironically it had to travel past Leighton Hospital to reach the emergency. Of course, the First Responders do not have space in their vehicle (the size of an estate car) to transport patients to hospital - even if they were allowed to do so.

   The problem is that North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) - a quango, apparently, and so not elected by the general public - is standardising its service after the Cheshire trust area was merged with those of Manchester and Lancashire. It has been claimed this would mean the Nantwich paramedics being brought down to the level of other, less trained, volunteers.

   And not just Nantwich, it seems. At a public meeting in the Civic Hall on April 12, sponsored by Nantwich Town Council, First Responders from other Cheshire areas said they would be similarly affected.

   As I understand it, if the changes are introduced, First Responders would not be able to:

  • administer aspirin to anyone suffering a heart attack;

  • administer Hypostop for a diabetic emergency;     

  • administer Entinox for pain relief;

  • use a bag valve and mask (as seen on TV) to administer 100% oxygen (a "pocket" version, which I believe is a plastic barrier for First Responders giving "mouth to mouth" resuscitation is going to be used instead);

  • attend to children under 14;

  • attend to old people suffering, for example, a fall in the street;

  • attend road traffic accidents; or

  • use their siren and flashing lights on their way to an emergency.

   A thought: On that last point, could it mean that, in extreme cases, they might arrive after the ambulance?

   It seems that initial training of First Responders will be reduced from 40 days to 28. All First Responders undergo on-going training - but this will obviously be less than previously undertaken.

   With unquestionable logic, Nantwich Town Councillor, Steve Hope, asks "Why don't they (the North West Ambulance Service) say the rest of the region are not up to scratch and bring them up to the South Cheshire level rather than bring South Cheshire down?" In view of what was said by other First Responders at the Civic Hall, Cllr Hope would have to widen this comment to include other parts of Cheshire. But he has a valid point.

   One First Responder has said that if the new standards are brought in the medics would leave the service rather than be faced with the task of telling people facing an emergency that they couldn't help them. "We do not want to be put in the position where we have people thinking we could have done more for them," said one First Responder at the public meeting.

   The hour-long public meeting was a mix of "evidence" from First Responders and comments from the public - far too much to do justice to it on a webpage.

   One grateful man praised the work of the First Responders who had attended to him when he had had a bad asthma attack.

   But another man accused speakers of "a certain amount of scaremongering". The problem was not as bad as it was being made out to be, he said. The man had been in touch with the North West Ambulance Service who, he said, "are in full support of the First Responders in Nantwich."

   The scaremongering jibe was quickly refuted. Other points he made were also refuted.

   A consultant pharmacist offered his help in the fight.   

   One man whose non-attendance was regretted by the audience was John Burnside, NWAS Chief Executive (right), who cited the closeness of the May 1 elections as a reason for him not getting involved in discussing an issue that could influence public opinion. That didn't go down well at the public meeting.

   Town Council Chairman, Cllr Bill McGinnis - who conducted the meeting - said this was a Nantwich problem not a political one and pointed out that there were people and councillors of all political persuasions at the public meeting.

   If he thought that his excuse for not being present would get him off the hook, Mr Burnside will have to think again. Names were taken at the end of the meeting for people willing to be part of a delegation to go to his headquarters.

   On another front, the Town Council are to call on Mr Burnside to delay any changes until after the County Council's Health Scrutiny committee has had a chance to discuss them on May 1 (Note the date?).

   The First Responders are partly sponsored by the Town Council and "is viewed by councillors as a key component in the emergency health services on which townspeople rely," said Cllr McGinnis in his annual council report, adding: "We view this prospect (the change of service) with alarm."

   As well as Cllr McGinnis, the platform party comprised:

  • Gavin Palin, one of the Nantwich First Responders;

  • County Councillor Mrs Dorothy Flude (Crewe South, attending on behalf of Nantwich MP, Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, who had just undergone major heart surgery);

  • Nantwich County Councillor and Town Councillor Arthur Moran (he is also a borough councillor for good measure);

  • County Councillor Allan Richardson (Cholmondeley, who was also representing Stephen O'Brien, Shadow Minister for Health and MP for Eddisbury), and

  • Nantwich Town Councillor Keith Cafferty (Vice-Chairman).

   Cllr Steve Hope was in charge of a microphone that was passed to members of the public to express their views, and there were other councillors in the audience. All spoke during the meeting.

   If the powers-that-be in the North West Ambulance Service think that the people of Nantwich are going to simply roll over and die, they showed that the NWAS should think again.

 

l Picture of John Burnside taken from the NWAS website (www.nwas.nhs.uk)

 

"The responder provides care until the Ambulance arrives,

usually only a few minutes later"

WHILE there is no reference to the First Responders change of service on the NWAS website (at least none that I could find), there are reports of what local groups are doing, and the following - for would-be volunteers - is currently on the website:

   "Community First Responders are groups of volunteers who live and work in the local community.

   "They are trained and activated by North West Ambulance Service to attend certain emergency calls where time can make the difference between life and death.  The responder provides care until the Ambulance arrives, usually only a few minutes later.

   "Very often the role they play is one of reassurance.  In instances where someone has chest pains, simply giving them oxygen can make a big difference.  In extreme cases they can perform CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) or in extreme cases use the defibrillator to restart someone’s heart.

   "Each volunteer takes it in turn to be ‘on call’.  They carry basic First Aid equipment and a simple to use Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

   "The Ambulance Service controller sends them to Category A (immediately life threatening) medical calls; they are dispatched at the same time as the ambulance crews but because they are often in more rural areas, can often arrive more quickly than the ambulance."

 

COMMENT: Note the phrase ". . .giving them oxygen. . .". This aspect of the service will cease under the proposed changes.     ". . . usually a few minutes later . . ."? I suppose it depends on your definition of the word "few".   

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