To answer these questions and more, Staines Rotary invited Colin McFarlane, a long-time member of the North West Surrey team of first responders to come and tell us more about the work of his team at a recent evening meeting.
Colin explained that Community First Responders (CFRs) respond to local emergency calls and provide lifesaving first aid in those vital minutes before an ambulance arrives. Community First responders are trained to assess the situation, providing immediate first aid if needed, and establish the patient’s previous medical history. Sometimes they can simply be a very vital second pair of hands to an ambulance crew when they arrive.
As well as basic first aid equipment, they carry automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and are trained and equipped to provide oxygen therapy. Having someone in the community who has been trained in first aid and can reach the patient quickly makes all the difference. And Colin gave some recent examples of where a first responder’s ability to attend a medical emergency proved lifesaving.
First responders are all volunteers and are dependent on donations from the public and businesses to enable them to carry out their vital roles. Increasingly they are receiving support from the South East Coast Ambulance Service in recognition of the vital work they do in saving lives. Colin said that to train and equip each new responder costs £1,300, including the cost of an AED of £850.
Colin explained that in the Spelthorne/Runnymede/Elmbridge area there were currently eight trained responders, with an additional four in training; the current ratio is one responder to 40,000 head of population; he explained that the goal is to reduce this to one for every 10,000 and that in 5 years’ time they hope to have up to thirty responders in this area. Each responder typically lives within 3 miles of the area which he/she is assigned to cover.
The demand for responders is increasing rapidly; in 2015, they attended at 91 incidents; in the year to March 2016, 252 incidents and this current year they expect to attend over 500. Because the number of responders is low, they are only able to attend to a small percent of incidents but as the team grows so will their overall effectiveness. Colin explained responders are not a substitute for ambulance crews, but bridge the gap between a 999 call and an ambulance arriving, giving an earlier response to “local” patients. He noted that there is a 10% reduction in a possible good outcome with each minute that passes for a cardiac arrest patient.
To become a first responder, a volunteer must go through an initial interview process, then receive 5 days training followed by monthly refresher training. In addition, a responder’s skills are assessed annually by the South East Coast Ambulance Service.
In addition to providing first response medical treatment, Colin said that they also undertake other community functions such as talking to and providing first aid training to schools, businesses, other voluntary organisations. An example of this was the assistance that Colin and his team provided to Staines Rotary at their annual “Know your Blood Pressure” day in the Elmsleigh Centre, Staines earlier this year, a point made by President Kevin Bridge in his introduction and later when he presented Colin with a donation to the team for this support.