‘Sending lay first aiders could be dangerous and in some cases risk lives,’ Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients Association told News Line yesterday.
He was expressing concern over government plans to keep a million people out of Accident and Emergency departments by only sending ambulances to what an operator deems are ‘life-threatening’ emergencies.
The measures are contained in a government sponsored review of the ambulance service by London Ambulance Service chief Peter Bradley.
Under Bradley’s proposals, ambulances will not be sent to all 999 calls.
Situations deemed to be less than life-threatening by a call centre operator will see an ‘emergency care practitioner’ (ECP) set out on a motorbike or in a car.
The alleged ‘super paramedic’ will have the power to treat patients or refer patients to a GP or social services, eradicating the need to go to A&E.
Bradley said the changes could mean around one million fewer people in England going to A&E.
But Patients Association chairman Summers explained: ‘Some of the people that will arrive at the house will be lay first aiders.
‘We feel that to be dangerous.
‘They will, in some cases, come across enquiries that they can’t deal with.
‘And it will be some time before a trained paramedic crew arrives with an ambulance – 27 minutes we’ve been told.
‘That’s a long time.
‘It means the category of emergency has to be pretty well done.
‘If the call centre doesn’t get it right there is a risk to patient safety, and patients can’t always make themselves clear.
‘If you have a heart attack and you don’t get treatment straight away, then patient safety is at risk.’
Commenting on the ambulance service review, Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health said: ‘UNISON welcomes this review.
‘It makes sense to train up paramedics to deal with calls in the home if appropriate, rather than routinely take patients to hospital and cause log-jams in A&E.
‘However because the review will have major implications for all ambulance personnel it is essential that staff and unions are involved fully in discussions before any changes are implemented.
‘We want to ensure that this review is about delivering better patient care and not about delivering job or cost cuts.
‘This review cannot be done on the cheap and we want all ambulance staff fairly rewarded for the difficult job they do now and will be expected to do as the service modernises.
‘Currently there are pockets of concern over the way the new pay system, (Agenda for Change) is being implemented in the ambulance service.’
Mark Weatherhead, General Secretary of the Association of Ambulance Personnel, questioned what role the so-called ‘super-paramedics’ would really perform.
He questioned whether the ‘emergency care practitioners’ would simply be a ‘substitute rather than a supplement’ to the existing service.
Health Minister Lord Warner said yesterday: ‘We are spending around £1.2 billion a year on ambulance services, and this report makes it absolutely clear there is scope for efficiency savings to be made.’
He claimed: ‘This is not a reduction in services or a reduction in the quality of services. It’s an improvement.
‘We can save one million people a year from going to A&E.’