Pilot project to overcome mobile phone ‘not spot’ issues for community first responders across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex

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A pilot project has been launched to improve the way volunteer responders are dispatched to medical emergencies in the East.

The region’s ambulance service has begun trialling the use of digital radios with three community first responder (CFR) groups in areas where there are phone signal issues.

There are more than 290 CFR groups in the East of England who make themselves available in their free time to attend emergencies in their communities before the arrival of ambulance service staff.

They are usually called on their mobile phones by East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) emergency operations staff.

However, since last month three groups in Wells, in North Norfolk, East Bergholt, in Suffolk, and Steeple Bumpstead, in Essex, have been trialling the use of handheld digital radios.

Gary Morgan, Head of Emergency Operations Centres at EEAST, said: “We are always looking at ways to improve communications with our volunteer life-savers.

“These are groups that have reported localised mobile phone signal issues and the trial will aim to show if an improvement in both communication and activation time can be achieved through the use of the radio.”

CFRs attend a range of 999 calls such as cardiac arrests, patients with breathing difficulties, chest pain and diabetic emergencies.

Kevin Short, a CFR with the Wells group, said: “In the winter, mobile phone signal is fine, but in the summer months and bank holidays we do not get any signal at all. For a CFR that can be demoralising because you are tied to your phone, car and kit when you are logged on.

“With the radio, we don’t have those issues any more. It is really good and you can mobilise so much quicker and slicker. The other advantage is that the radio has GPS tracking and the control room can guide you to an address if you struggling to find it.”

Other CFR groups in Soham, Sudbury and St Albans and are also trialling the use of handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to assist them attending 999 calls. The devices use GPS mapping to help find addresses and tells emergency operations staff how close they are to a medical emergency.

For more information becoming a CFR, visit: http://www.eastamb.nhs.uk/get-involved/community-first-responders.htm