Emergency volunteers face insurance levy with companies accused of 'putting lives at risk'

Insurance companies have been accused of “putting lives at risk” by loading levies of up to 20% on premiums for motorists who volunteer to respond to medical emergencies in their communities.

Community First Responders (CFRs) are civilian responders who are trained to deal with emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes. There are some 150 first responder schemes around the country, which are linked with the National Ambulance Service.

However, while CFRs are automatically dispatched along with ambulances to an emergency, CFR Ireland, the National Community First Responder Network, said that volunteers are now finding that levies are imposed on their premiums when they seek car insurance.

The group said these additional costs discourages people from volunteering as CFRs, and are therefore putting lives at risk.

“It seems very unfair to impose a charge on volunteer activity. CFRs have demonstrated a willingness and ability to perform to the highest standards,” Dr David Menzies, medical director of CFR Ireland, said.

“They are trained to manage stress and there is no evidence of an increased risk.”

John Fitzgerald, co-chair of CFR Ireland, said schemes have been in operation with the National Ambulance Service for over 10 years. “We are not aware of any incidents where there has been a collision involving a CFR en route to a call.”

Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath raised the issue with insurers Aviva, who confirmed it puts a loading of 20% on policyholders who volunteer to work with CFR.

“We do so to cover the risk of this work which is over and above the risk associated with the regular domestic/social use of a car,” the insurer said in a statement.

“It is, in fact the same loading we apply to, for example: a service technician, a doctor, a company director etc, anyone whose work involves the use of their car. If a CFR volunteer already pays this loading, they are covered for the CFR work as well.”

Figures released by the Central Bank this week showed that Aviva Ireland made an underwriting profit of €5.7m last year, a relatively strong performance given that the 21 listed car insurers made a combined overall loss of €221.6m in 2015.

The insurer said it is working with CFR Ireland to provide a ‘workable solution’, and has proposed that volunteers undergo a training programme “along the lines of RSA-sponsored Emergency Services Driving Standard which is now a legal requirement for all ambulance drivers. If that were to happen, not only would we drop the 20% loading, we would also give a discount.

“All of this may seem overly bureaucratic and nit-picking but there is actually a serious public policy issue here,” it continued.

“CFR get the same 999 calls as the ambulance service in the locations in which they operate. The HSE are very happy to use their services. Their work is the same — or certainly similar in nature to any other emergency services responder except they don’t have a blue light and they don’t have any specific training.

“In the event of an accident, the HSE are not responsible… We are trying to come up with a solution that will mitigate against the additional risk we have identified in the driving they do as part of their work.

“If we can achieve that, then we can remove the loading. But as it stands, the question is: who is responsible in the event of a First Responder volunteer having an accident with a tragic outcome?” Aviva said.


Lifestyle

Ovarian cancer has been dubbed ‘the silent killer’. Christina Henry tells Rowena Walsh why she is one of the lucky onesAgeing with attitude: Life after ovarian cancer

More From The Irish Examiner