Community first responders Dunmail Hodkinson and Susan Bainbridge with NEAS community resuscitation training officer Michael Elvidge and deputy chief operating officer Victoria Court

Investment in life-saving community volunteers thanks to successful funding bid

NHS Charities Together grant will help support community first responder schemes in the North East

North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) is expanding its army of community first responders in a bid to save more lives and support more patients across the region, thanks to funding from NHS Charities Together.

There are currently 100 community first responders (CFRs) volunteering their time across the North East, supporting patients within their own communities whilst emergency ambulance crews are travelling.

Every year, CFRs offer around 29,000 hours of their own time to help their local communities by attending more than 1,400 incidents, providing vital life-saving support, or simply a reassuring face, in the minutes between a 999 call being made and the crew’s arrival.

Now, thanks to a £181,080 grant from NHS Charities Together, NEAS is recruiting volunteers to create a further 24 new CFR schemes to support communities in most need, who are not currently covered by CFR schemes, increasing CFR numbers by 23%.

The areas identified for the new CFR schemes are:

  • Bishop Auckland South
  • Blackhall
  • Blakelaw
  • Blyth Cowpen
  • Coundon North
  • Felling South
  • Ferryhill East & Cornforth
  • Hendon & Docks
  • Hetton-le-Hole South
  • Horden
  • Lakeside & Farringdon
  • Murton North & Parkside
  • Newbiggin
  • North Ormseby & Brambles
  • Pallion North
  • Peterlee East
  • Redcar Lakes south
  • South Shields West
  • Southwick
  • Shotton & Haswell
  • Thornley & Wheatley Hill
  • Thorntree
  • Walker North
  • Walker south

Recruitment of the new CFRs is due to start in the coming months, with a view to the new CFRs taking up their voluntary positions by the end of the year. Find out more about being a community first responder here.

The funding will also pay for a defibrillator upgrade project for all community first responders, as well as additional falls equipment to allow more trained first responders to attend patients who require assistance following a fall, but do not require medical treatment.

Victoria Court, deputy chief operating officer, said: “Our CFRs come from all walks of life and all have many different reasons for choosing to volunteer their time to support us and their local communities.

“Living within the communities they serve, they can often be on scene almost immediately, providing basic life support, observations and initial treatment whilst the ambulance crews are travelling. They also often remain on scene, offering a much-appreciated extra pair of hands to the attending crew. Their contribution really does save lives, can reduce pain, prevent or reduce hospital stays and provide reassurance to those requiring emergency care.

“It’s fantastic to be able to develop our community first responder scheme further and we look forward to welcoming our new volunteers into our service.”

Paul Brolly, first responder co-ordinator in the community resuscitation and development team at NEAS, said: “There are specific areas of the North East that are currently under-represented by CFRs or that have experienced additional pressures due to Covid and therefore we are looking to increase our volunteers to match the areas that need support. Of the 24 areas we’ve identified, 22 have been identified in a list of 225 wards across England at risk of being “left behind” in the All Party Parliamentary Group’s recent ‘Connecting Communities’ report.

“As well as increasing volunteer numbers, it’s great to be able to invest in new equipment for them and to increase our falls response capability. Our CFRs have helped 207 patients since undergoing additional training to be able to support with falls patients, and their average response time is 12 minutes. With support from a clinician over the phone, they are often able to discharge that patient on scene, negating the need for an ambulance. As well as providing timely care for that patient, this service therefore also frees up ambulances for higher priority calls, supporting the Trust’s overall response times for patients.”

Dunmail Hodkinson began volunteering as a CFR in Newbrough in 2010 and is now one of the CFRs trained to attend to falls patients.

He said: "I'd just taken an outdoor first aid course and becoming a first responder gave me the opportunity to help in my local area and also to keep my skills up to date. The role and the equipment have changed over the years but we get regular training, backup and support from our team so that we're ready to respond. It's really satisfying when I see that the treatment I'm able to provide has helped the patient start to recover before the ambulance arrives.

“In 2018 I received extra training and equipment so that I can attend uninjured patients who have fallen. We assess the patient to make sure they don't need to go to hospital and can then use lifting equipment to get them back on their feet. If they're well and our on-call clinician is happy, we can leave them to get on with their day. I find this incredibly rewarding as we make a real difference in their lives. It's brilliant for the patients as they are saved from lying on the floor and it frees up an ambulance to deal with life-threatening emergencies."

Susan Bainbridge has volunteered in her local community of Middleton in Teesdale for 10 years, having signed up after retiring.

“The difference in the community is huge,” she said. “People know what l do and they approach me with problems and I always get thanks from people l have helped.

“The falls equipment has been vital as people collapse in the smallest of rooms and the Mangar Camel, after checks, can be operated by me to lift a patient from the floor which is great. We have a great team who is always happy to help.”

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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