How to volunteer for the NHS: could you be a Community First Responder?

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Volunteer for the NHS - ambulance staff

As we celebrate the amazing work of volunteers around the UK, meet a Community First Responder for the NHS

Find out more about the role of NHS Ambulance Service volunteer responders, who provide emergency life-saving care.

The NHS around the UK relies on thousands of volunteers, in hospitals, hospices and surgeries, as well as transporting patients or visiting in their homes, working in hospital shops and fundraising.

As our health service celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, we look at the role of Community First Responder. Ambulance service policy is to send the nearest most appropriate response, so CFRs attend emergency calls to give treatment before an ambulance arrives.

Boundless member Alex Wood has been volunteering as a CFR for South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust for six years. SWASFT is one of the most rural NHS Trusts in England and its ambulance service covers around 10,000 square miles. There are more than 450 Community First Responder groups across the South West with over 6000 volunteers; they provide emergency care to more than 20,000 incidents each year, mainly in rural and remote locations.

Volunteer for the NHS - Community First Responders

The role of Community First Responder

Inspired by a TV documentary about the ambulance service, Alex researched the role of Community First Responder and found his local contact. “I started as a Responder in early 2012 through SWASFT, and the recruitment and training was done through St John Ambulance. I attended four days of training over two weekends, and was then issued with my equipment. In our Responder bag we carry dressings, equipment to open or maintain a patient's airway, oxygen, a defibrillator, and equipment to do basic observations such as monitoring pulse and oxygen saturation for both adults and children.

“As well as a basic uniform – polo shirt, green trousers, and reflective jacket – you're given a pager and a mobile phone; you're dispatched to jobs through the pager giving the patient's name and address and a very brief description of what you're going to. We often get a call from the dispatch desk on the way to the job with further details.” CFRs sign on for a shift whenever suits them, and they don't have to stay at home; the pagers use GPS and CFRs are sent to jobs within three miles of their current location.

When a 999 call-taker records the details of a job, the system categorises the incident based on a set of criteria. CFRs aren't sent to any road traffic incidents or patients who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but the majority of cases they're sent to are urgent calls involving cardiac arrest, strokes, choking, or breathing problems.

“On my first day I waited six hours for a job, sitting like a coiled spring. Then I was called to stand down on my way to my first job, as another crew was already there. I sounded so disappointed they sent me anyway! It was someone in anaphylactic shock from a food allergy; another responder was there with an ambulance when I arrived, so it was a nice gentle introduction to responding.”

Volunteer for the NHS - Community First Responders performing CPR

Alex and fellow Community First Responder Paul Cosh practice CPR.

“I'm not worried about attending a cardiac arrest, as there's a set process to follow. Every six months we have to requalify and demonstrate chest compressions in a life support scenario so it's something we're very used to. For one job I was first on scene with another CFR for a lady in cardiac arrest at home; we spent 15 minutes providing basic life support before another crew arrived. It's rewarding knowing you've played an integral part in a job like that.

“Hands-on CPR – starting chest compressions – is the most important thing anyone can do. You can learn yourself with this CPR guide from the British Heart Foundation.”

Volunteer for the NHS - Community First Responder and Paramedic

Paramedic Stuart Brookes (left) with volunteer Alex.

Stuart Brookes is a Paramedic, and also volunteers as a SWASFT Responder Liaison Officer.

“Our team consists of eight responders who cover our rural community, from all walks of life; from a pub landlady to HGV drivers, to those who are retired but want to give something back to the community.

“My role as Responder Liaison Officer is to act as a point of contact for the team, for clinical enquiries, support after attending emotionally difficult cases, restocking equipment and kit checks, as well as regular refresher training in line with national guidelines. I also respond for the service on my days off from working as a Paramedic, in the same way as the rest of the team.”

Could you be a CFR volunteer?

If you're interested in finding out more about the role of Community First Responder, find your local Ambulance Service Trust and follow the links to the volunteering information. To volunteer as a CFR you need to hold a full clean driving licence and be in reasonable good health.

How to support NHS volunteers

You can donate to the South Western Ambulance Service Charity to support their volunteers and equipment such as thermometers, blood pressure monitors and pulse oximeters.

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