Unions say increased collaboration between blue light services needs to be backed up by investment from the Government.
The Mail reported last week how Cleveland Fire Brigade attended more than 2,000 medical emergencies in a trial project with the North East Ambulance Service.
There is nothing wrong with collaboration where it makes sense, but only if it enhances a service rather than papers over the cracksMike Hill, Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation
The First Responder scheme sees fire engines and firefighters provide first aid and other life-saving care alongside paramedics, or before an ambulance can get to an incident.
But two union representatives have urged caution about the closer working between the two services.
Mike Hill, secretary of TULO (Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation), said: “The success of the First Responder pilot is a credit to the hard-working paramedics, ambulance crews and firefighters of the North East Ambulance Service and the Cleveland Fire Brigade working in partnership to respond to medical emergencies, but such collaborations need to be put into context.
“The regional ambulance service and the Cleveland Fire Authority have both been hit hard by the Government’s austerity agenda resulting in underfunded blue light services which are so stretched that in the case of NEAS there has been a growing reliance on back up providers like St John Ambulance and in the fire service there is the loss of civilian and firefighter jobs and closure of stations like marine.”
Mr Hill, who is also Unison’s local regional organiser, added: “There is nothing wrong with collaboration where it makes sense, but only if it enhances a service rather than papers over the cracks.
“Our NHS and fire and rescue services need real investment in order to cope with increasing demands and pressures and the effects of public sector cuts.”
Davy Howe, Cleveland Fire Brigade Union secretary echoed the concerns saying joint working only works when it adds real value financially but most importantly in improving the service to the public.
He said: “FBU members in Cleveland have, as always, supported the ambulance crews as best they can during the pilot trial despite a number of problems encountered in taking up this extra work.
“The FBU supports the taking up of this extra emergency medical response work on a national basis and hopes that issues highlighted in the report are rectified so that all of the positives this work brings are realised fully.”
The ambulance service has said it hopes to continue the scheme.