UK paramedics sent to emergency calls without ambulances
Under the new 'clinical response model' an ambulance will only be called if the paramedic at the scene deems it necessary
By Kiran Randhawa
The Evening Standard
LONDON — Lone paramedics are to be sent without an ambulance to the "vast majority" of 999 calls under plans revealed today.
The scheme, designed to ease pressure on A&E departments, will see more patients treated at the scene of accidents or at home instead of at hospital.
But critics say the measures will cost lives and will fail those who have a right to receive the "best care possible".
The pilot scheme will be launched this month in south-east London and will take up until Christmas to be fully implemented in the region. A three-month trial will then begin.
Under the London Ambulance Service plans, only calls deemed serious enough to require immediate hospitalisation will be sent an ambulance with two paramedics or emergency medical technicians.
But Justin Bowden, who represents ambulance workers at the GMB union, said it will be "impossible" in many cases to judge the severity of a patient's condition by phone. "Paramedics don't know what they will find until they get to the scene, so this new service could actually lose valuable time," he said.
"For example if someone has a heart attack but doesn't quite give the right symptoms it could have very serious consequences, possibly costing lives."
The LAS ran 12-hour and 24-hour trials last year but this is the first time a pilot scheme of this size and length will be tested in the capital.
A trainee paramedic, 27, who works mainly in the South-East region and asked to remain anonymous, said: "The problem is the way the calls are taken. The system needs to be evolved.
"I think the LAS is trying to allocate its resources better, so we can respond effectively and efficiently to calls, but this change needs to start at the control room end and not at the front line. It's back to front." Currently, the LAS uses "fast response units" — paramedics either on motorbikes or in cars — on 999 calls alongside ambulances to answer call-outs faster.
But under the new "clinical response model" an ambulance will only be called if the paramedic at the scene deems it necessary.
Geoff Martin, chairman of campaign group London Health Emergency, said: "It's a major watering-down of the kind of ambulance service most Londoners expect. It could put lives at risk."
LAS deputy director of operations Jason Killens said: "The safety of patients will remain our top priority throughout this evaluation process which is aimed at improving the care of those who are not seriously ill or injured. We will be regularly reviewing all the clinical processes, as well as increasing the clinical support available to staff both in our control room and at the ambulance stations involved."
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