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Volunteers to drive ambulance cars as service continues to face pressure

Unions and campaigners warn measures will not solve the ‘huge crisis’ as services are already ‘stretched beyond their limits’

VOLUNTEER drivers will not solve the “huge crisis” in ambulance services, unions and campaigners warned today after a pilot scheme for unpaid helpers was announced.

The London Ambulance Service (LAS) said that trained volunteers, who already respond to 999 calls in their own car alongside ambulances, would soon be deployed in some instances.

They are equipped and trained to use defibrillators, a spokesperson said. 

Ambulance response times in England have risen to their highest levels on record, new figures revealed last week, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to put pressure on services hit by more than a decade of Tory austerity. 

The NHS England data showed that March’s average response time for ambulances dealing with the most urgent incidents was nine minutes and 35 seconds – up from eight minutes and 51 seconds the previous month and the highest since current records began in August 2017. 

Under the new £100,000 volunteer scheme, set to launch in May, unpaid helpers will be sent out to lower category calls to help patients who may not need an ambulance but require more support than a taxi can provide.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that 22 volunteers had signed up so far.

An LAS spokesperson said: “This project builds on our well-established network of volunteers who respond to emergencies to help ensure our ambulances can reach the patients that need us the most.”

But Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis said the scheme will not save ambulance services which are now “stretched beyond their limits.”

He told the Morning Star: “People are literally dying in the back of ambulances and up to 160,000 are coming to harm a year because they cannot be transferred into A&E departments.

“Bed losses, chronic understaffing, vestigial social care, low pay and work-related stress are key factors. It is time for the government to get a grip.”

Unison’s national officer for health Alan Lofthouse warned that he move would “put a huge burden on volunteers and pose serious risks for people needing proper care.”

“Volunteers have an important role within the NHS, but they shouldn’t be used to replace the jobs of paid workers,” he told the Star.

“After years of underfunding, ambulance services need to be able to invest in staff and improve working conditions.

“That will enable them to recruit and retain enough staff to deal with ​rising demand.”

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