LYME Regis Town Council will write to the South Western Ambulance Service to complain about “unacceptable” emergency response times in the area.
The suggestion to write to the chief executive of the service was put forward by Councillor Owen Lovell and a draft letter was considered at last week’s Strategy & Finance Committee meeting.
It said that the council was concerned that residents and visitors of Lyme Regis were “vulnerable to delays in emergency response due to our location, combined with the ambulance service policy on use of fire co-responders”.
Several members of Lyme Regis fire service have received medical training and act as co-responders – often being the first to arrive on the scene when an ambulance is called. In the draft letter, they were described as an “outstanding team… providing first class and sometimes literally life-saving service”.
However, a change in ambulance service policy means that fire service co-responders are now only called out to Category 1 incidents considered immediately life-threatening, such as heart attacks.
Community co-responders may be called to incidents classed as Category 2-4, but the closest community co-responders are based in Chideock, Bridport or Honiton.
The letter added: “This area, relatively distant from main centres of population, would naturally expect ambulance response times to be somewhat below the regional or national average.
“These factors might explain the frequency with which we experience cases of people (many being frail and elderly) in serious distress for often excessive waiting times, well above the published targets.
“Such experiences are all the more distressing for patient and helpers, given the knowledge that trained fire co-responders are just up the road but not officially called upon to assist.”
The letter went on to suggest it would be a “rational policy choice” to extend the despatch of fire service co-responders to Category 2 and 3 incidents.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, Councillor Derek Hallett said he was “really glad” that the issue had been brought forward by Councillor Lovell, following a medical incident at a recent Christmas lights fundraiser which they both attended. He said that they waited an hour and a half for a response from the ambulance service, and the casualty was eventually taken to hospital by car.
Councillor Hallett also shared a story about his own daughter, who recently overturned her car and had to wait an hour and a half for medical assistance. He said the fire and rescue service did attend but trained co-responders within the team were not allowed to help.
“That’s what we’re getting, in this town and in West Dorset,” he said.
“Co-responders were at the scene but they were not allowed to act because of financial reasons. It’s scandalous!
“This council needs to send not just a strong letter, but a huge letter, led by the mayor. We really need to push it home. It’s unacceptable and absolutely disgraceful.”
Councillor Richard Doney said that Lyme Regis found itself in a similar position with the police, as it was on the “extreme ends of the outpost”.
He referred to an incident which recently took place on Monmouth Beach, when an elderly woman fell on rocks and severely injured her leg. She was eventually airlifted to hospital by a coastguard helicopter, as no ambulance resources were available at the time.
Councillor Doney commented: “What worries me is, they didn’t have anything spare. Imagine if it had been a Category 1 incident, like a heart attack. That’s what worries me about this.
“We are on the end of the line and if we have local people who can come out and at least do something, provide reassurance, we should be pushing like hell for that.”
Councillor Jeff Scowen commented: “Are these issues not down to our position in the county but, like the police problem, a national government decision to cut costs? We and others are suffering the consequences, is that not the case?”
Councillor Hallett said it was not a problem everywhere, because in other counties including Devon they were still using the services of fire service co-responders, but in Dorset they would “not pay out for it”.
Committee chairman Councillor Steve Miller commented: “I think this is a very good item to raise and I agree this letter should be sent.
“I think it’s very much on an exploratory basis to see what the response is and then, on receipt of a response, we push back firmly and say what’s happened, we’ve now got evidence and it’s not good enough. “We should push the authorities very hard to up the services in this area of the county.”
It was agreed to send a letter to South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Ken Wenman.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Michaela Ellis, was unable to take part in the discussion as her husband Alan is a fire service co-responder and she therefore had to declare a pecuniary interest.