There are more than 100 Community First Responder (CPR) schemes across Ireland, including 25 throughout Munster, with five based in Cork. All the responders are trained to international standards in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, defibrillation, and oxygen therapy.
They are part of a local CFR scheme linked to the National Ambulance Service.
When the emergency services are alerted to a case of cardiac arrest, chest pain, choking, or stroke, a local civilian responder will be alerted, as well as the ambulance service.
The network, CFR Ireland, aims to double the number of CFR schemes in the country over the next 12 months and increase the number of survivors of cardiac arrest. It will also establish a national automatic external defibrillator register during its first year.
CPR Ireland medical director David Menzies said around 15 people die from cardiac arrest every day.
“The rate of survival from cardiac arrest is completely dependent on the speed of the response,” said Dr Menzies. “The best chance of survival is defibrillation within the first 10 minutes.”
For every minute without treatment, the chances of survival drop by 10%.
Last December, the Health Information and Quality Authority published a review of pre-hospital emergency care services. It pointed out that geographical challenges in rural and sparsely populated ares would always present some difficulties for ambulance services in achieving timely and appropriate responses to calls to attend patients in cardiac arrest.
It recommended a more comprehensive national programme of community-first response schemes be developed for all rural and sparsely populated areas.
It was a coincidence that the State’s health services watchdog made the call in advance of the launch of CFR Ireland.
The national network was established last year following a conference in Tullamore, Co Offaly, but work on establishing it had been going on for quite some time.
In fact, the schemes are modelled on one that began in Wicklow 10 years ago.
National Ambulance Service director Martin Dunne said the service was fully committed to working with the CFR schemes nationally. “These schemes compliment the services provided by the ambulance service and ensure that life saving emergency treatment can begin as soon as possible,” he said.
The CFR schemes were also welcomed by Jason van der Velde, the West Cork Rapid Response (WCRR) unit’s doctor who works in some of the remotest parts of the country.
The Dutch native, who lives in West Cork with his wife Kirsten and four children, works in Cork University Hospital’s emergency department. He has also been a volunteer with WCRR since it was founded in 2009, saving lives in his spare time.
“It is good that there is an agreed governing structure with trained local people working with the ambulance service to save lives. I think it will work, ” he said.
CFR schemes are completely voluntary and rely on community fundraising. They receive no central funding.
More information about the network and how to set up a CFR scheme can be found on www.cfr.ie.