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East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust criticised for suggesting volunteers could be used to drive ambulances during busy winter periods

The region’s ambulance trust has come under fire for suggesting volunteers could drive ambulances to help during busy winter periods.

East of England Ambulance Service NHS...Ambulance on an Emergency call in King's Lynn. (3466684)
East of England Ambulance Service NHS...Ambulance on an Emergency call in King's Lynn. (3466684)

East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST), which answered up to 3,200 calls a day during winter 2017/18, has asked its community first responder (CFR) volunteers if they would be prepared to drive ambulances or be utilised in other ways during lower-priority call-outs.

EEAST trains its CFRs to attend emergency calls in the first minutes before an ambulance crew arrives.

In an internal email, leaked to the Health Service Journal, CFR co-ordinators were asked for feedback on the idea of supporting ambulances and attending ‘low acuity’ patients, before potentially driving crew and patients to hospital or care home.

Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: “It is important trusts consider all options when it comes to service delivery, but this must not come at the expense of patient safety.

“It is vital we see an improved service this winter. I will continue to hold the trust to account and to press for more crucial funding.”

Alex Mayer, East of England MEP, said: “We need to ensure there are enough properly trained health professionals on the front line – not give the green light to volunteers.”

Suggestion was made in the HSJ that EEAST could ask the military to support staff over the winter, however it is believed this referred to the Military Assistance to Civil Authorities policy, which can be utilised during a crisis.

An EEAST spokesman said: “While it is well known that readiness protocols like this exist in the event of extreme circumstances, this is not at all reflective of current planning arrangements.”

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