When Dr Andy Mason first used a defibrillator on a man in his own home he was threatened with disciplinary action.
Today every ambulance has one, while the public may be asked to use them under guidance in an emergency, and that was exactly what Andy wanted to see in the late 1970s.
But he was a pioneer of their use in the field as a young volunteer with the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service (SARS). At 66, he will be retiring next month after 43 years as a doctor and 40 years with SARS.
When he began volunteering with SARS, ‘immediate care’ was in its infancy. Paramedics, whose training he helped develop, did not begin to appear until the 1980s.
So what was happening to patients who did not get a SARS doctor. Andy bluntly says: “People were dying.”
Paramedic Lou Rosson, who he is now mentoring as a SARS volunteer, added: “If they did survive, it was often with disabilities.”
Andy recalled how revolutionary immediate care was in the 1970s:“With the first patient I took to hospital, having defibrillated him at home, there was a question I might be reported to the General Medical Council for using a procedure that should be done in a hospital,
“I had seen it in America and knew they were doing it in Brighton, though with a specially equipped ambulance. My idea was that defibrillators should be in the community.”
Even doctor colleagues at the Woolpit practice he then worked in were sceptical until one had a patient go into cardiac arrest during an examination and Andy used the machine on him.
Andy, from Norton, had wanted to train as an orthopaedic surgeon, but when he and his wife Jane had triplets, he went to a general practice at Woolpit, which was already signed up to SARS. He is now senior medical officer at Newmarket Racecourse.
He says what SARS does has changed ‘out of all recognition’. The technology and drugs they use have changed, but so have procedures. For example, with cardiac arrest you used to alternate mouth-to-mouth with compressions, but now they do compressions alone.
In the 1970s he even had to source his own magnetic flashing light for his car, which came from an oil rig and fell off his MG on the way to an emergency in Stow Langtoft.
Do we still need SARS doctors with paramedics on most ambulances? Andy and Lou are positive we do because they have a wider range of drugs and treatments they can use, enabling essential but painful procedures, like pulling broken bones back into line, to be carried out at the scene. That could save a limb.
Andy says leaving medicine will be a wrench but he feels there are better qualified doctors to help SARS develop.
Lou interrupts: “I disagree. Andy has seen everything. He has so much experience.”
SARS is a charity which receives no government funding for its life saving work.
Yet SARS has responded to over 16,000 incidents since it started in 1972. This equates to more than one incident every day for the last 42 years.
SARS has four members in the Bury St Edmunds area, including Andy, but has two new local members who have recently joined.
Visit www.sars999.org.uk to donate or volunteer.