Tuesday 16 January 2018

A rapid response to save lives

A local emergency response initiative in West Cork is saving two lives per month, writes Áilín Quinlan

John Kearney (left) co-founder of Rapid Response and Dr Jason van der Velde, prehospital critical care physician and volunteer doctor for West Cork Rapid Response
John Kearney (left) co-founder of Rapid Response and Dr Jason van der Velde, prehospital critical care physician and volunteer doctor for West Cork Rapid Response

Ailin Quinlan

PIC0TURE the scene – it's early in the morning and a father is reversing out of his driveway on the way to work.

His five-year-old hurries outside to wave goodbye – but in a nightmarish scene his dad doesn't see him, and accidentally reverses over him.

The youngster suffers horrific injuries.

The child's frantic parents contact the emergency services.

John Kearney, founder of Irish Community Rapid Response, a community-based emergency response service which started in West Cork in 2009 and is about to be rolled out nationwide, takes up the tale: "When the ambulance service got there it was feared the child would be unable to survive the journey to hospital.

"Our doctor arrived on the scene. He was able to stabilise the child until he got to hospital.

That five-year-old made a full recovery and is back in school today."

And that, says Kearney, a father-of-three who runs a Marine Tourism business in the picturesque seaside town of Baltimore in West Cork, "is the kind of thing that keeps me going".

Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) has been nominated for a 2013 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Impact Award of €200,000 sponsored by DCC. The awards will be announced today.

The roots of the ICRR initiative – which now saves an average of two lives a month and was featured in a recent RTE documentary – stretch back to a diving expedition by Kearney and some friends off the remote island of Cape Clear back in 2005. One man got into serious difficulties in the water. The emergency services were called.

It was a bank holiday weekend, however, and the system was overstretched:

"An emergency services helicopter was called but they were unable to supply one immediately. It was some time before my friend was evacuated. He could have died," says Kearney bleakly.

The man survived – but the delay in getting him to treatment, recalls Kearney, resulted in his friend having limited mobility for the rest of his life.

"That was the catalyst for me. After that I learned a lot about the golden hour and how important it is to get help for someone in a difficult situation in that crucial first hour.

"In my friend's case it took several hours for help to come and in the interim he had a major setback.

"The emergency services do a really great job but they're over-stretched at times."

The experience graphically highlighted to Kearney just how difficult it can be for the existing services to deal with emergencies in remote or isolated parts of the country – and the importance of having a local service which could respond rapidly and take up the slack.

He decided to do something about it. "I decided to set up a system under which sophisticated medical treatment can be made available at remote locations in the event of an emergency."

Kearney's community-based emergency response system originally began in West Cork in 2009, and quickly became known as West Cork Rapid Response.

The idea was, simply, says Kearney, to enhance the local emergency services by providing additional medical personnel to respond to emergency callouts.

West Cork Rapid Response gained a superb reputation, making hundreds of callouts and saving lives before being expanded to East Cork in 2012.

Now known as the Irish Community Rapid Response service, and still funded by the communities in which they operate, ICRR teams provide advanced paramedics and doctors – hospital doctors and GPs – who can be called upon through the '999' service to support and complement the existing emergency services.

"We look to recruit GPs who are then up-skilled and equipped to deal with on-the-spot emergencies – we work with a combination of hospital doctors, advanced paramedics and GPs," explains Kearney.

All of their medical volunteers are provided with equipment, skills and on-going training to deliver critical care.

To date ICRR has responded to more than 500 callouts and dealt with approximately 800 to 900 patients.

"In one-third of all the incidents we attend, we free up the ambulance on the scene, enabling it to attend another emergency.

"When we started, our aim was to help save one life a year. Now we are helping to save two lives a month," says Kearney.

There has been lots of interest in the proposal to take ICRR nationwide, he reports.

"We have received great support from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland in helping us develop a strategy for the next three to five years," says Kearney.

"We've had loads of interest from places like Mayo, Donegal and the midlands," says Kearney. However, he says, running a national organisation is a big logistical workload:

"It is a completely different mechanism to take this idea to a national level. We have now set up a special committee to take the service nationwide."

If they win that €200,000 they'll start rolling out the service from January 1. If they don't, he says, they'll still roll it out but, initially at least, on a smaller scale."

"What's amazing is that the model is based upon the concept of volunteerism.

Medical volunteers could be out very late at night on call with us and then have to turn up and do a full day's work the following morning.

Community volunteers also do an amount of work in fundraising and organisational duties that are vital to the successful running of the service.

"Saving a life is the biggest impact that you could ever make on anyone's life.

"If ever I am having a tough day, I have a look at a picture I have on my phone of a little baby who was one of the first lives we saved. That makes it all worthwhile."

Irish Independent

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