Maggie's Call: Roll-out of co-responder initiative stalled over potential legal concerns
An initiative that would have seen on-call firefighters respond alongside Northern Ireland Ambulance Service when someone has a cardiac arrest has been suspended over potential legal concerns.
The Black family, from Glenarm, launched a petition in Maggie's memory to ensure that the fire and rescue service would be automatically dispatched to emergency medical calls in rural areas.
A collaboration between the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, the scheme would see a phased roll-out of on-call firefighters being trained to co-respond to incidents in rural areas where someone has had a cardiac arrest.
On-call crews based in Carnlough Fire Station have already received their Basic Life Support training to respond alongside Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.
Speaking last Friday, Mr Swann said: "Undoubtedly there is an overlap between the skills and capability of firefighters and the needs of the health bodies in Northern Ireland, including the ambulance service. Any potential for firefighters to utilise existing capacity and the skills they hold to secure better health outcomes is worthy of consideration."
However, during the Health Minister's questions in the Assembly on Tuesday of this week, North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey asked for confirmation that the chief fire officer had suspended the roll-out after receiving legal advice. "It is obviously of great concern given the publicity that there was around this particular issue, and given the importance of the issue that we're dealing with," he said.
Mr Swann said he was aware of correspondence between the chief fire officer over legal issues that had been raised by the Fire Brigades Union in regards to Maggie’s Call. "It's unfortunate that it would stall what has been, I think a very proactive campaign by Maggie Black's family and a willingness in the Carnlough brigade, especially in the station as well to roll that out as quickly as possible," he added.
Mr Storey sought assurances that fire stations in Northern Ireland would be given adequate training, and that "every resource will be put in place to ensure that there is no liability to the fire officers".
The minister responded: “I can give the member that commitment, because this was actually a joint initiative between Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, and it was actually the ambulance service that were providing that training and it was specifically for cardiac response.
“They have provided the reassurances. That was the boards, the chairs of both organisations working together to make sure that both were satisfied that what was being provided was up to a standard that provided them with the reassurance as boards that they could provide me with that reassurance that they were content with what is the aim of Maggie’s Call, to make sure we can get people seen as quickly as possible.”