Emergency medical personnel in the United Kingdom

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Emergency medical personnel (green uniforms) help to load a patient into an air ambulance in Glasgow

Emergency medical personnel in the United Kingdom are people engaged in the provision of emergency medical services and this includes paramedics, emergency medical technicians and emergency care assistants. 'Paramedic' is a protected title, strictly regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council,[1] although there is tendency for the public to use this term when referring to any member of ambulance staff.

Emergency medical personnel most often work in an ambulance alongside another member of staff. Typically, an ambulance will be crewed by either a paramedic with another crew member (technician or emergency care assistant), two technicians or a technician with an emergency support worker. No NHS ambulance trust in the country currently offers a paramedic on every ambulance, although some trusts are moving towards this.[2]

The majority of emergency medical personnel are employed by the public ambulance services of the National Health Service, although many are also employed by private ambulance companies and the two voluntary aid societies (British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance), either providing private services such as event medical cover, or providing support to the NHS ambulance services under contract.[3]

As part of a cost-saving exercise NHS is in the process of phasing out the ambulance technician/emergency medical technician (Band 4 on the Agenda for Change) role from the services and replacing it with the Emergency Care Support Worker or Emergency Care Assistant roles (Band 3 on the A4C), and most services are no longer training staff at technician level.[4][5]

Levels of staff[edit]

The specific skills performed by each group of emergency medical personnel will be dictated by a combination of training, the legal framework and the policies of their employer. The most homogenous group is the paramedics, as the framework of practice is largely dictated by their status as registered healthcare professionals, although local policy differences are still in effect.

The other grades, including technicians, support workers and emergency care assistants do not have legal status as health care professionals, and their skill sets and permitted interventions are governed by their employer. This has led to significant differences in training and skill between staff in different services with the same or similar job titles, especially within the private sector.

There are standards in place for all ambulance staff, written by the Joint Royal Colleges Ambulance Liaison Committee (JRCALC), which is a body made up of representatives from a number of expert organisations including medical, nursing, allied health professional and ambulance communities.[6] JRCALC publishes guidance based on the principles of evidence based medicine and best practice, but adherence to JRCALC is not mandatory, and organisations and individuals can choose to deviate from it.

All ambulances services, as well as the provision of treatment by health care professionals (paramedics), whether public, private or voluntary are regulated by the Care Quality Commission, and they control the operation of all services.


Paramedics take potentially life-saving decisions about treatment needed and, if appropriate, will then administer the treatment.[7] They work utilising their own clinical knowledge and, as registered health care professionals, they carry full responsibility for their actions.

Traditionally the only route to becoming a paramedic was to join an NHS ambulance service and work towards the position from non-emergency patient transport roles through to the emergency division as a technician, and after a period of time, it was possible to internally apply for paramedic training.

Although offered at ambulance service training departments, the curriculum and certification were awarded by an organisation affiliated with the Edexcel examination board, called the Institute of Healthcare Development (IHCD). Such paramedic training was usually a 10 to 12 week course with some of this time spent in a hospital emergency department, coronary care centre and operating theatre, assisting the anaesthetist and performing airway management techniques such as endotracheal intubation. Completion of the course allowed the paramedic to register with the then legislative body.

Prior to regulation and closure of the title, the term "paramedic" was used by a variety of people with varying levels of ability. The term acquired a legal definition after the incorporation of the Health Professions Council (HPC). Existing paramedics applied to the register via a grandfather scheme which ended in 2007.

Eventually the IHCD began to accredit a few non-NHS training establishments, allowing them to teach their curriculum. In the mid 1990s some universities started to offer para-medicine diplomas and degrees, in association with local Ambulance Trusts. By necessity these included all of the practical skills found in the IHCD curriculum and allowed applicants to apply for registration with the HPC.

Amongst the professionals regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council, paramedicine was the only one not to have an extant professional body, until the British Paramedic Association was formed in 2001. This later became the College of Paramedics and now acts as an important representative organisation for the paramedic profession. Unlike some other professions, membership of the college is not mandatory in order to be a registered paramedic.

There has been expansion of allied health professions who are regulated, leading to the regulatory body being re-established as the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). In 2010, the IHCD route to becoming a registered paramedic was largely deprecated, although is still recognised by the HCPC, and anyone successfully completing the BTEC Level 4 qualification is entitled to register as a paramedic. This leaves the university route as the primary training method for new paramedics, with a number of universities offering qualifications which can lead to registration, both as full-time courses for new students (although they must also be accepted for the practical element of the training by an ambulance service) and part-time courses for existing ambulance staff.

Standards of proficiency which every paramedic must meet in order to become registered were first issued in 2003, with the most recent revision issued by HCPC in September 2014.[8]

Paramedic practitioners and emergency care practitioners[edit]

Although 'paramedic' is the only protected title for the profession, some paramedics undertake further training or higher educational programs in order to work as advanced practitioners. These may be known as community paramedics, paramedic practitioners,[9] critical care paramedics and emergency care practitioners.

Across the country the scope of practice of each advanced paramedic varies, however many can be found offering unscheduled care in situations where the patient does not need to travel to hospital, when the practitioner decides care can be provided without needing to see a GP. Some of these roles are very similar to those carried out by specialist nurses, thus, blurring professional boundaries. Some roles like advanced practitioner courses and the emergency care practitioner courses are offered to both professions as interchangeable skills are present.[10]

The College of Paramedics has published a framework for paramedic education which details the attainable clinical grades of UK paramedics as below:[11]

  • Ambulance clinician, technician, or student paramedic (Certificate of Higher Education)
  • Paramedic (Foundation Degree, Diploma of Higher Education, BSc)
  • Paramedic Practitioner or Specialist Paramedic (BSc Hons)
  • Advanced Paramedic Practitioner (Post-Graduate/MSc)
  • Consultant Paramedic (MSc and above, with minimum ten years paramedic experience)

Ambulance technicians[edit]

Ambulance technicians, or emergency medical technicians form a large proportion of the workforce in emergency medical care, although the title lacks formal definition or protection, and there is no restriction who can use it. Generally, ambulance technicians can work either autonomously, making their own clinical decisions within their training and remit, or as assistants to a higher skilled paramedic.

As part of a cost-saving exercise, the NHS is in the process of phasing out the ambulance technician/emergency medical technician role (Band 4 on the Agenda for Change) and replacing it with the Emergency Care Support Worker or Emergency Care Assistant roles (Band 3 on the A4C), and most services are no longer training staff at technician level,[4] although large numbers remain operational.

Technicians within the ambulance services generally completed the IHCD (formerly the Institute of Health and Care Development) ambulance technician award (awarded by Edexcel, part of Pearson) which is a course lasting around 12 weeks, including 3 weeks of emergency driving. The qualification is titled Ambulance Aid and Driving and qualifies the person as a trainee technician, and after a period (usually around a year) on the road, a plenary examination is taken to complete the training and become a qualified ambulance technician (QAT). Whilst now deprecated by the NHS services, the qualification is still available as a BTEC level 4, and can be trained by the ambulance services or a number of private providers.

Alternative qualifications exist, especially in the private sector, although there is no set standard between qualifications. Other qualifications include the Emergency Care Technician award from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and numerous in-house qualification courses offered by individual providers.

Emergency care assistants[edit]

Emergency care assistants (sometimes called emergency care support workers) are trained to a basic level, and do not have clinical autonomy, relying on a paramedic or technician to make clinical decisions. Their role varies widely between services, but they are normally expected to perform driving duties, and to assist the clinician in their work.[12][13]

Other titles[edit]

Paramedics or pre-hospital care providers in the UK may also use other titles such as:

Scope of practice[edit]


The drugs paramedics are allowed to administer are regulated in UK Law; with other bodies, such as JRCALC, providing clinical guidance on when they should be used.[25][26][27][28]

  • Activated charcoal
  • Atropine
  • Adrenaline
  • Amiodorone
  • Aspirin
  • Benzylpenicilln
  • Buccastem
  • Chlorphenamine
  • Cyclizine
  • Diazemuls
  • Dicobalt edetate.
  • Entonox
  • Furosemide
  • Glyceryltrinitrate
  • Glucagon
  • Glugogel
  • Glucose 5%
  • Glucose 10%
  • Heparin
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Influenza Vaccine
  • Ipratropium
  • Metoclopramide
  • Midazolam
  • Morphine Sulphate
  • Nalbuphine hydrochloride
  • Naloxone hydrochloride
  • Obidoxime
  • Ondensatron
  • Oramorph
  • Oxygen
  • Pandemrix
  • Paracetamol (PO & IV)
  • Prednisolone
  • Prochlorperazine
  • Salbutamol
  • Sodium chloride
  • Sodium lactate
  • Sodium thiosulphate
  • Stesolid
  • Syntometrine
  • Tenecteplase / Reteplase
  • Tramadol
  • Tranexamic acid

A number of other drugs are given by Paramedics with advanced training, either by utilising a Patient Group Directive (PGD) or simply because they are classified as Over the Counter (OTC) medicines which are available to anyone.[25][29][30]

  • Amoxicillin
  • Benoxinate
  • Cefalexin
  • Cetirizine
  • Chlorphenamine maleate tablets 2 mg/5ml
  • Chlorphenamine maleate tablets 4 mg
  • Chlorphenicol 1% eye ointment 4g tube
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Co-amoxiclav 125/31 suspension
  • Co-amoxiclav 250/62 suspension
  • Co-amoxiclav 375 mg tablets*
  • Co-codamol 8/500 mg tablet
  • Co-codamol 30/500 mg tablet
  • Codeine phosphate
  • Dexamethasone
  • Diazepam 2 mg tablet
  • Diazepam (IV sedation)
  • Diclofenac Suppository
  • Diclofenac IV
  • Domperidone
  • Doxycycline
  • Erythromycin antibiotic 250 mg
  • Flucloxacillin antibiotic 250 mg capsules
  • Flucloxacillin antibiotic syrup 125 mg/5ml
  • Flucloxacillin antibiotic syrup 250 mg/5ml
  • Fluroescein 1% eye drops minims
  • Fucithalmic
  • Ibuprofen suspension 100 mg/5ml
  • Ibuprofen tablets 200 mg
  • Instillagel Lidnocaine (pre-filled syringe)
  • Levonorgestrel
  • Lidnocaine Hydrochloride
  • Locorten-Vioform
  • Loperamide
  • Metoclopramide
  • Metronidazole 200 mg tablet
  • Metronidazole 400 mg tablet
  • Morphine Sulphate (IM)
  • Naproxen
  • Nitrofurantoin
  • Nystatin
  • Oxybuprocaine 0.4% eye drops minims
  • Paracetamol tablets 500 mg
  • Prochlorperazine
  • Phenoxymethylpenicillin
  • Prednisolone
  • Prochlorperazine injection
  • Revaxis
  • Tetanus/Diphtheria
  • Tramadol
  • Trimethroprim

Paramedic intervention[edit]

Procedures carried out by paramedics include:

Paramedics and EMTs in some parts of the country are now able to diagnose ST-Elevation Myocardial infarction (heart attack) and bypass the closest Accident and Emergency Department to transport the patient to a hospital able to provide percutaneous coronary intervention.[36]

In some parts of the country paramedics and EMTs are able to bypass Accident and Emergency Departments for specialist units with patients suffering from a stroke. Currently the FAST-Test[37] is used to determine a patient's suitability to be transported directly to a specialist unit. On admission to the specialist hospital the patient should rapidly receive a CT scan of their head, to guide treatment.

Driver skills[edit]

There is currently no requirement for 'blue light' drivers to undergo any additional training to claim exemptions such as use of blue lights, exceeding the speed limit, or passing through red traffic lights. However, the majority of NHS, private, and voluntary providers who undertake emergency drives do provide extra training. In spite of this, road traffic collisions do occasionally occur which involve ambulances and other blue light vehicles.[38][39][40][41][42][43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About registration: Protected titles". Health and Care Professions Council. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  2. ^ "GWAS leads the way with commitment to paramedic on every ambulance" (PDF). Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust. 2010-01-18. 
  3. ^ "Annual plan 2011-12" (PDF). South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust. 
  4. ^ a b "Ambulance technician". NHS Careers. 
  5. ^ "Pay for ambulance service staff". NHS Careers. 
  6. ^ "JRCALC guidelines". Joint Royal Colleges Ambulance Liaison Committee. 
  7. ^ "Paramedic". NHS Careers. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  8. ^ "Standards of proficiency - Paramedics" (PDF). Health and Care Professions Council. 1 September 2014. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  9. ^ "Updating site July 2011". Paramedicpractitioner.com. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  10. ^ "What does a 'super-paramedic' do?". BBC News. 30 June 2005. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ "Emergency Care Assistant". NHS Careers. 
  13. ^ "Job profiles:Emergency care assistant". National Career Service (UK). Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  14. ^ Newton, Andy. "The Critical Care Paramedic Programme 2006" (PDF). 
  15. ^ "Resus Guidelines 2010". paramedicpractitioner.com. 
  16. ^ http://www.connexions-direct.com/Jobs4U/index.cfm?pid=74&catalogueContentID=2759&parent=358
  17. ^ "HEMS Paramedic certifications". Closeprotectionworld.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  18. ^ Flight Paramedic - Midlands Air Ambulance
  19. ^ "USAR Paramedic Training" (PDF). Fire Service College. 
  20. ^ "Ambulance HART - Hazardous Area Response Team". ambulancehart.org.uk. 
  21. ^ "Ambulance HART - Hazardous Area Response Team" (PDF). ambulancehart.org.uk. 
  22. ^ "Ambulance HART - Hazardous Area Response Team" (PDF). ambulancehart.org.uk. 
  23. ^ "MASSIVE RESCUE OPERATION AT SEA". eastbourneherald.co.uk. 
  24. ^ "Paramedic Science at Staffordshire University | Training". Ambulance Life. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  25. ^ a b http://www.paramedicpractitioner.com/gpage1.html [dated info]
  26. ^ http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/drug-licences/NHS-AMBULANCE-PARAMED-GRP-AUTH2835.pdf?view=Binary
  27. ^ http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/drug-licences/Paramedics_(registered)_-_a12835.pdf?view=Binary
  28. ^ "Paramedics: Exemptions". MHRA. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  29. ^ http://www.rpsgb.org.uk/pdfs/factsheet7.pdf
  30. ^ http://www.bhamb.nhs.uk/ecpDocs/pdf/10_1.pdf
  31. ^ http://jrcalc.org.uk/airway17.6.8.pdf
  32. ^ Mallinson, T (2010). "Prehospital cardiac auscultation: friend or foe?". Journal of Paramedic Practice 2 (6): 256–259. Retrieved 2010. 
  33. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - England - Essex - Heart attack shock for young mum". bbc.co.uk. 
  34. ^ "Paramedics' heart drug go-ahead". BBC News. 6 July 2004. 
  35. ^ "Prehospital capnography or capnometry: are we going in the right direction?". Paramedicpractice.com. 2011-11-04. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  36. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - England - Beds/Bucks/Herts - New heart op 'could save lives'". bbc.co.uk. 
  37. ^ Harbison J, Massey A, Barnett L, Hodge D, Ford GA (June 1999). "Rapid ambulance protocol for acute stroke". Lancet 353 (9168): 1935. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)00966-6. PMID 10371574. 
  38. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Wales - Ambulance crashes on a 999 call". bbc.co.uk. 
  39. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Scotland - Woman dies after ambulance crash". bbc.co.uk. 
  40. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - England - Ambulance crash baby 'critical'". bbc.co.uk. 
  41. ^ "Ambulance crash victim identified". BBC News. 2009-12-26. Retrieved 2010-05-21. 
  42. ^ "Cyclist in ambulance crash dies". BBC News. 2010-01-14. Retrieved 2010-05-21. 
  43. ^ "Ambulance crashes during 999 call". BBC News. 2009-12-23. Retrieved 2010-05-21.