Monday, 20 September 2021

More first aid volunteers needed to help save lives

VOLUNTEERS are needed to help save lives.

VOLUNTEERS are needed to help save lives.

South Central Ambulance Service’s community first responders scheme needs more helpers to provide a 24-hour service.

In the Henley area it currently has only three volunteers who are often the first on the scene in a medical emergency.

Most incidents are related to heart problems, such as cardiac arrests. The only emergencies the responders do not attend are road accidents and crimes.

Robert Aitken, who leads the Henley scheme, said the volunteers’ role is to provide basic first aid treatment and prepare the patient for the paramedics.

He said: “We arrive before the paramedics 80 per cent of the time because they are often coming from Maidenhead, Reading or High Wycombe.

“For a category one emergency an ambulance has a target to be there within eight minutes but sometimes we can get there before.

“By getting oxygen to a patient early you can reduce the chances of a heart attack becoming a cardiac arrest before they get full treatment.

“The patient and the people with them are often distressed so someone representing a medical service in some way can calm things down. That in itself is a pretty useful service.”

The responders aren’t allowed to administer medication but can help a patient to take it, which can be important for conditions such as a stroke or an emergency related to diabetes.

Each volunteer receives about 20 hours of training and has to pass a recertification test every six months.Mr Aitken, 67, from Lower Assendon, said: “We’re not trained like the Red Cross people in terms of bandaging.

“We’re trained in making sure the patient’s limb is in the right place to avoid further damage or to deal with serious bleeding.”

Mr Aitken, a retired chartered accountant, said the responders can be on call as often as they like but they average about 10 hours per week.

They log in by sending a text message and will then be automatically alerted by the emergency services if an ambulance is dispatched in their area.

Volunteers are expected to have their equipment and uniform with them when they are on call and should be able to immediately drop what they are doing to attend an emergency.

Mr Aitken, who is also a Bix and Assendon parish councillor, said: “You can still get on with other stuff as long as you can get there fast.

“The most call-outs I’ve had in a single shift is three but that’s quite unusual. It probably averages one per shift.

“It sounds onerous and it’s incredibly important but once you’re trained and into the swing of it, it’s not that bad.

“You need people in the group with different life patterns to respond efficiently.”

The Henley branch of the scheme was launched in 2007 but for the last three years it has been just Mr Aitken and his wife Jane. In March, 19-year-old Harry Griffiths joined but he is now at Coventry University studying disaster management and emergency planning and will only be able to volunteer during his holidays.

Mr Griffiths, from Remenham Hill, was writing the emergency plan for Henley Town Council when he first became involved.

He recalled: “I noticed that the ambulance station had closed and found about the scheme in the town hall. I was the only person who had picked up a leaflet.

“Members of my family have been ill so I know how long it can take for an ambulance to get to the scene.”

Henley is desperately short of cover. Mr Aitken said: “For it to work you need to be very local and based five minutes’ travel time from an incident.Harry and I both live outside Henley so we’ve got no one in the town to respond, which is why we need more people.

“Someone in Henley could get to an incident within three or four minutes.”

He said a patient’s chances of survival fell by 20 per cent with every minute.

A 32-year-old Shiplake man died recently but would have had a better chance of survival if there had been a responder in the village or nearby.

“We have to abide by the traffic laws so I’ve got to cope with the traffic on Remenham Hill,” said Mr Aitken.

“That’s why we need people around the town who can take five or 10 minutes off work and rush to an emergency.”

Mr Aitken would like businesses to become involved with the scheme.

He said: “They could help publicise it to their employees but if they could run their own schemes on a rota basis that would maximise coverage in the town.

“The time that anyone is away from their workplace is very short.”

For more information about the community first responders scheme, call South Central Ambulance Service on 0800 587 0207 or email

FIRST responder Robert Aitken is backing the Millie’s Dream appeal.

Sarah Roberts, of King’s Road, Henley, has been raising money to install defibrillators in schools. Her seven-year-old daughter Millie, a pupil at Rupert House School, has a heart and lung condition.

Mr Aitken said: “Defibrillators don’t cost a lot of money and for organisations with a lot of footfall it’s a no-brainer. The device might never get used or it might be used once every five years but if that saves someone’s life it’s worth it. If we get more of this equipment then it raises awareness and we may get more people interested in our scheme because we often go out to people’s homes rather than public places. If people become less scared of a piece of kit like that then it might help recruitment.”

Mr Aitken would like to see a defibrillator installed in Henley town centre where it can be accessed by everyone. “They are so easy to use,” he said. “A voice feature tells you what to do, which is press a button.”

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