Norfolk councillor suggests paying volunteers to respond to 999 calls to improve ambulance times

EEAST is one of 24 trusts and the only ambulance service to be named as a pilot site for the new digital scheme.
High ambulance response times have been an ongoing concern in the area

Ambulance response times in rural areas could be improved with a health service equivalent of retained firefighters, it has been claimed.

Councillors in North Norfolk say volunteers should be paid to help deal with 999 calls during busy periods, to help tackle the crisis in ambulance response times in the area.

High ambulance response times have been an ongoing concern in the area, which suffers from some of the longest waits in the country.

Earlier in July the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust was told it must continue to improve amid "unacceptable" patient waiting times.

It has been rated as requires improvement by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), following an inspection carried out in April and May.

Now the idea of a special volunteer force has been raised at a North Norfolk District Council meeting.

While north Norfolk already has a group of volunteers called 'community first responders' (CFR) who attend emergency calls, they are currently unpaid.

At the meeting Wendy Fredericks, councillor for Mundesley, told care bosses they were "missing a trick" and more people would sign up if they were treated more like retained firefighters.

There is a drive to recruit more retained firefighters in the east Credit: ITV Anglia

These are firefighters who are given training but only attend the fire station when they have an emergency callout, with payment for any work undertaken.

She said: "You would get more people signing up because our CFRs have to do other jobs or are retired. There's a limit to what they can do."

Ms Fredericks said CFRs currently have to pay for their own courses, books and equipment.

By investing in the community, she said it would mean people would be able to get support earlier and avoid either needing to go to the hospital or staying there as long.

Marcus Bailey, the chief operating officer of the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) said he "did not disagree" and said CFRs could be important, for example in getting defibrillators to patients in need as quickly as possible.

However, he said the service needed to take incremental steps, with the trust looking to cover CFRs' petrol mileage first.

He also said EEAST is looking into a volunteer scheme for staff who have offered to respond while not at work.

Mr Bailey and Ross Collett from the Integrated Care Board (ICB) said they were continuing to look at ways to cut response times, with new trials for rapid drop-off of patients at hospitals so ambulances could be freed up.

Mr Collett said the health service continued to suffer from staffing-related issues, with the number of Covid infections rising and long-term issues around burnout.