I recently attended the Blue Light Collaboration Conference in London representing the College of Paramedics. I was initially a little sceptical, as I don’t have much to do directly with collaboration between services apart from direct contact with them as an on road paramedic, but then I thought this may be a good opportunity to meet new people, see different perspectives and get some other thoughts.
And it delivered. There were many delegates from various UK Fire & Rescue Services, plus a few paramedic, police and government representatives. Due to this, the main `topic was the collaboration between paramedic and fire services – co responding, emergency response, joint response…different names for basically the same thing: Fire & Rescue Services with their decreasing workload assisting Paramedic Services with their increasing workload.
There are a couple of different models how this works, but the most advanced and integrated (or overlapping?) model comes from Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands of England. There, East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) and Lincolnshire Fire & Rescue Services (LFRS) have been working together in an official capacity since 1998, and their current setup is a natural progression of pure first responder type scheme: In a UK first, Fire & Rescue are actually manning three ambulances.
In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons: The Fire & Rescue Service have capacity to spare. Their workload has gone down significantly over the past decades, but the public still deserve a good level of fire protection. In between fire and rescue calls, there is only so much training one can do – why not utilise their time for medical transport? Ideally, fire cover should not suffer from this model, but have a thought and compare: the risk of morbidity and mortality of medical origin (mainly cardiac) outweighs the morbidity and mortality of a fiery origin by quite a high factor. Both Paramedic and Fire & Rescue Services have one single task when broken down to the bare essentials: to serve & protect the public. Why not collaborate in order to maximise our efforts and outcomes?
This direction also got me thinking one step further: What if Ambulance Services (you may have noticed I have been avoiding that term) focus on their core strength of providing healthcare to the public, and “outsource” the transport side of operations to other services or suppliers?
A true Paramedic Service would take requests for help from the public, and point them in the right direction. If they can be helped at the point of their initial query and be referred on to more appropriate services (e.g. home care, GP, pharmacy), that works in favour of the public (accessing the appropriate care as timely as possible), and in favour of the service (only sending paramedic resources to the patient when appropriate). If a Paramedic is required at the scene of an incident, they can decide if transport is necessary. All this is already happening in some services around the world, but lets take it one step further: The Paramedic on scene then needs transport capacity, as they respond in mobile rapid response units (fancy speak for cars or minivans). Enter Fire & Rescue Service: they provide the transport capabilities, with basic life support dual trained fire fighters. Should the patient be stable and only need transport, they they can be transported. Should they need ongoing paramedic intervention and/or monitoring, the paramedic can hop in the back of the fire ambulance, and paramedic care can be given en route until handover at hospital.
Currently, there are only three Fire & Rescue (F&R) Ambulances in Lincolnshire supporting the Ambulance Service in a transport capacity. But if F&R took charge of the entire transport side of things, Ambulance Services could turn in to dedicated Paramedic Services, and focus on delivering high quality paramedic care to the community, without the overhead and distraction of not only fleet maintenance but number of other areas. F&R Service would be able to use their resources more effectively, and not have to close fire stations, thus keeping up fire cover for the public.
The above lines are only a thought experiment taking the Lincolnshire model one step further, but it is an option to be considered. The people behind the pilot programme in Lincolnshire are due to publish some numbers based on their facts and figures over the past month (the preliminary data, I’ve been told, is promising). It will have to be properly evaluated and adapted to local needs, but I believe this could be quite an exciting game changer. I will be watching these developments carefully and with a lot of interest.