Berwick community paramedic scheme thanked for its support during Coronavirus pandemic

More than 3,700 patients have been supported by a popular community paramedic scheme in Berwick since it began 18 months ago.

The community paramedic scheme – which is a joint initiative between North East Ambulance Service and the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – was launched in July 2019, initially as a three-month pilot but was extended until March 2020 and is now being reviewed on a month-by-month basis.

The trial has led to:

  • A reduction in the response time by the ambulance service for life-threatening cases;
  • more than 3,700 patients being seen and treated at home by paramedics – freeing up GPs so they can see more patients in their surgeries. This has been particularly invaluable during the Coronavirus pandemic, and has meant that the GPs have been able to vaccinate all care home residents in the area;
  • fewer patients being transferred from Berwick to the Northumberland Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington and Borders General Hospital; and
  • extra support for care homes in and around Berwick during evenings and weekends.

The pilot operates across the Well Close Medical Group, the Union Brae and Norham Practice and Berwick Infirmary Minor Injuries Unit (MIU), with a paramedic available from 9am-9pm seven days a week, covering Berwick and surrounding areas.  

The paramedics use a rapid response vehicle and work with the primary care teams at the two GP practices from 9am-6pm and work alongside the MIU from 6-9pm on Mondays to Fridays and from 9am-9pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

As well as responding to life-threatening emergencies in the Berwick area, their role is to support local GPs by making urgent visits to patients, help with the care plans for patients with long-term medical conditions and work with other healthcare staff, such as the district nursing team. 

As part of this, they have an expanded scope of practice to include the ability to request X-rays, take swabs and samples.

By being able to provide this type of community-based health care, the team are able to reduce the number of patients taken to hospital unnecessarily, providing a better patient experience and supporting the wider NHS system.

Chris Chalmers, clinical care manager at NEAS, said: “This scheme was already a real success before the pandemic - providing better care for patients and helping NHS colleagues manage the demand for help from local people – but I think it has really proven itself during the pandemic.

“Our community paramedics were instrumental in supporting GPs during the pandemic because they been able to visit patients who were otherwise unable to be seen face to face. They also picked up a lot of people with chronic conditions who were reluctant to see a GP during the pandemic.

“And because they are first and foremost paramedics, they were still able to support us on the frontline during the first wave of the pandemic. 

“It’s fantastic to see how many patients have been supported so far by the trial, and we know it has the potential to help so many more. I think the numbers would have been even higher had we been operating in normal times.”

Dr Neil Forster, one of the partners at Union Brae and Norham surgeries, said: “This paramedic pilot has been the best and most exciting innovation in primary care since I became a GP 20 years ago”

Helen Henderson, practice manager, added: “I really do not know how our practice would have coped without the assistance of the paramedics through this pandemic. The ability of them to provide an entire first response package of assessment, bloods, x-rays, samples and referrals has allowed us to concentrate on the patients with long term needs and continue the services to all our patients throughout the pandemic. It has been an excellent example of collaborative working in practices.”

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