Beloved Berwick community paramedic scheme made permanent following its success – Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

The scheme, run by North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), entails a small team of paramedics who respond to calls in and around the Berwick area, as well as offering additional support to the local NHS services.

The scheme initially began as a three-month pilot in July 2019 and has continued to be extended since then as permanent funding was sought. In that time, the scheme has led to:

  • A reduction in the response time by the ambulance service for life-threatening cases; halving the average Category 1 wait times to 06.02 minutes;
  • More than 5,800 patients being seen and treated at home by paramedics; freeing up GP services so that they can see more people in the local community;
  • Fewer patient transfers from Berwick to the Northumberland Specialist Emergency Care Hospital (NSECH) in Cramlington and Borders General Hospital;
  • Extra support for care homes in and around Berwick during evenings and weekends.

Following its success, the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has agreed to commission the service permanently.

The team of three paramedics work in and around the Berwick area from 9am-9pm seven days a week. The team use a rapid response vehicle and work with the primary care teams at Wells Close Medical Group, and Union Brae and Norham Practice. They also work within Berwick Infirmary Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) out of hours and at weekends.

As well as responding to emergencies in the area, the team of paramedics also support the local GPs by making urgent home visits to patients, help with the care plans for patients with long-term medical conditions, and work with other healthcare staff such as the district nursing team.

In addition to this, the paramedics have an extended scope of practice to include the ability to request X-rays and take swabs and samples. Following the successful funding of the scheme, the team will receive additional training to further support their work in the community; allowing them to respond to more jobs, and further reduce the number of unnecessary hospital transfers and lighten the workload of local GP practices. By the end of their training, the team will be fully qualified first contact practitioners and will be able to conduct more work in the area to help provide the best patient experience and support the wider NHS system.

Paul Liversidge, Chief Operating Officer at NEAS, said: “When we began to trial this scheme as a three-month pilot in 2019, we couldn’t have foreseen just how large of an impact it would have on the Berwick community, although we obviously hoped it would be the success it has been.

“Two-and-a-half years and a pandemic later, and our community paramedic team have not only been able to improve the experience of the patients they see first-hand, but the knock-on effect of them being there frees up both GPs and our ambulance crews to see more patients in need.

“It’s fantastic to see how well thought of the team is within the community and we’re also now looking at how we might replicate the service in other areas of the region. We’re very proud to be able to provide this service, and I look forward to seeing how the project continues to grow in the coming years.”

Laurie Robson, NHS Northumberland CCG’s Senior Head of Commissioning – Urgent & Emergency Care, said: “This is a great example of how partnership working and developing new ideas to best meet the needs of patients in different parts of our county can have really positive outcomes for our communities. We are delighted to be able to commission this service on a permanent basis, as it has proved its worth in supporting high-quality care for patients in Berwick and the surrounding areas.”

Ruth Corbett, Clinical Operations Manager for NEAS in North Northumberland, said: “I’m so proud of all my teams, but our Berwick community paramedics have shown real commitment over the past two and a half years to demonstrate that there is a real need for additional support in our more rural areas. When I first developed the team, I had no idea just how much of an impact the work they would go on to do would have on the local community. The work of the team has vastly improved not only the waiting times and pressures on the service, but also patient care and experience, which is the reason we’re here.

“The nearest emergency department is almost 60 miles away from Berwick. This is a long journey for any patient who needs emergency care, but it is also a very long way for one of our vehicles to go and not be responding to other emergencies back in the area.

“By having an additional team based in the Berwick area, we’ve been able to provide a much more hands-on approach to patient care within the community and prevent unnecessary journeys to hospital an hour away from home. Our team is always there to visit poorly patients, and support GP practices with their care of patients with long-term illness.”

Dr Stephen Doherty, partner at Well Close Medical Group, said: “As a practice, we were delighted to hear that this project had been made a permanent fixture within the local community. The community paramedics are essential in providing urgent care when needed, as well as supporting local surgeries, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them”

Dr. Adelle Pears, associate GP at Well Close Medical Group, added: The community paramedics have been a fantastic addition to the primary care team.  They all bring an enormous amount of enthusiasm and experience to the role.  Our patients and the wider community have benefitted hugely from the excellent care that they provide, we are very lucky to have such an amazing service and I look forward to working with them in the future.”

Anna Wood, Modern Matron at Berwick Infirmary, said: “Staff at the infirmary have welcomed the opportunity to build relationships with the community paramedics, so it is good news that the scheme will continue.

“When available, the paramedics have supported our teams during busy periods, which in turn has allowed them to learn more about how our Minor Injuries Unit works and to boost their knowledge. Being able to bring patients into the MIU for assessment and treatment has contributed to the reduction in transfers to the Northumbria emergency hospital at Cramlington, which means less disruption for the patient while reducing pressure at that site.”

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