Unsung heroes: Alexandra Licence reports on the selfless volunteers of the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service
PUBLISHED: 16:47 26 June 2013 | UPDATED: 09:13 28 June 2013
What happens immediately after an accident can be a matter of life and death for an injured person. Across the county, critical care paramedics and doctors – all members of the charity Suffolk Accident Rescue Service (SARS) – volunteer day and night to provide the greatest chance of survival.
Dr Fiona Andrews, currently chair of SARS, is a GP and managing partner at Christmas Maltings and Clements practice in Haverhill. She has been responding for SARS since 2008.
“I am called out by the critical care desk at ambulance control in Chelmsford, which dispatches enhanced care resources across the Eastern region. I then respond voluntarily to the incident, which is usually at night but sometimes in the day if I am not working at the practice. I also get called at weekends. I often attend with my partner who is a critical care paramedic and a SARS member and we have one of the SARS response cars in our drive most of the time.”
Fiona and her partner Mark are two of the 17 SARS members who volunteer across the county. The team constitutes nine critical care – or extended skill – paramedics and eight doctors, three of whom are able to give roadside anaesthetics. All paramedic volunteers work for the East of England Ambulance Service. SARS doctors are a combination of GPs, A&E doctors and anaesthetists. SARS responder Dr Andrew Mason, recently runner-up in the Suffolk Volunteer of the Year category at the 2013 High Sheriff Awards, is senior medical officer for Newmarket racecourse.
Together the SARS responders cover all of Suffolk and the surrounding borders.
“Our members sometimes travel 20-plus miles to reach an incident if our skills are needed, particularly in the case of a trapped road traffic accident,” says Fiona.
SARS has recently recruited new responders, one in the Ipswich area and a doctor currently undergoing training who will be able to respond in the Newmarket/Wickhambrook area. More cover is still needed so attracting additional medical volunteers is important. Enlisting those with non-medical skills is also a priority.
“We’re keen to have volunteers to help with fundraising and at events, as well as those with special skills such as web design, or people interested in becoming external trustees.”
One of the greatest challenges facing all those involved is generating enough funding to continue the vital work. Funding is an issue, says Fiona, mainly because the charity has a low profile – something it is working hard to address.
“Despite being in Suffolk for over 40 years, many members of the public are unaware of the work we do,” says Fiona. This reflects in the figures. According to the Charity Commission, in the last financial year the shortfall between SARS’ income and outgoings was £39,045. Ben Hall, who helps with fundraising says the challenge can’t be overestimated.
“We have run at a deficit for four out of the last five years and our reserves are dwindling. We seem to get lost in the mix – sometimes people think we are the air ambulance and sometimes they think we are part of the ambulance service. There is also nothing to easily identify us at the scenes of incidents so we often get missed in the media’s reporting.”
The importance of SARS cannot be overstated. Around 60% of those killed in road accidents – the most common type of incident attended by SARS responders – die within the first 15 minutes.
“It is well recognised that the first ten minutes is very important for future outcome at an accident,” says Fiona. “The next 50 minutes are also crucial and this is where enhanced care can make a big difference. We have extended skills and extra equipment and drugs including strong painkillers that are not carried routinely by the ambulance service, which enable us to bring an extra level of care to the scene of traumatic and medical emergencies. We work alongside our colleagues in the ambulance service and the other emergency services to save lives and to give the best possible care at the scene of an emergency.”
What also matters is how quickly they can respond and the coverage they provide through the night. “Due to our unique geographical spread of voluntary members we can sometimes be first on the scene at an emergency. From 1am we are the only enhanced clinical care practitioners available in Suffolk until 7am,” says Fiona.