Key areas of interest for paramedics in 2018

My Post (11)The most substantial development concerning paramedics this year is prescribing. Proposals to introduce independent paramedic prescribing were made to the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) in 2015. However, the CHM did not support the proposals at that time. The College of Paramedics and NHS England went back to the CHM in July 2017 with case studies and an implementation plan to try and get further discussion. The following December the CHM decided to support independent prescribing by paramedics. It will now recommend implementation by making a submission to government ministers.

There is still a lot of work to be done and this is likely to be the key area for development of the profession in 2018. Legislation changes need to be made to enact the recommendation. Universities will have to develop their prescribing programmes and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) will need to update its Standards for Prescribing. While it is unlikely there will be any paramedic prescribers until 2019 at the earliest, this marks a key progression in the development of the profession.

In September 2017, the HCPC began consulting on the threshold level of qualification for entry to the register for paramedics. The current level is outlined in the HCPC Standards of Education and Training at ‘equivalent to Certificate of Higher Education for paramedics’. However, the Paramedic Evidence Based Education Project (PEEP) report recommended the level to the paramedic register be raised to BSc (Hons) degree by 2019.
The consultation document proposes the level of qualification should be amended, due to the changing nature and complexity of the role of paramedics, and it illustrates the ongoing diversity in current qualifications across the UK. Any resultant change would not affect existing registered paramedics or students who are part way through pre-registration education and training programmes. The consultation closed on 15 December, with the outcome expected early this year.

Clinical practice

The UK Ambulance Services Clinical Practice Guidelines, last published in 2016, published supplementary guidelines last year. Although there will not be a new version of the guidelines this year, ongoing updates continue to be published online.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is updating its Quality Standard on Trauma. This quality standard covers assessment and management of trauma (complex fractures, non-complex fractures, major trauma and spinal injury) in adults, young people and children. It does not cover hip fracture or head injury as these topics are covered in a separate Quality Standard. The draft quality standard was open for consultation from 7 November to 5 December. The final Quality Standard is expected to be published on 29 March 2018.

Initial results from the AIRWAYS-2 trial are likely to be seen in spring 2018. This randomised trial is comparing the clinical and cost effectiveness of the i-gel supraglottic airway device with tracheal intubation in the initial airway management of patients suffering an out of hospital cardiac arrest.

At the time of writing, the final publication of the College of Paramedics’ position statement on paramedic intubation is still impending. Work began in May 2017 on the statement, with a group meeting in July to discuss and develop a first draft. This statement was reviewed and amended by several key clinical groups before being released to the membership and wider stakeholder organisations for comment. Consultation ran in September 2017, with final publication imminent.

Service delivery

NHS England and NHS Improvement have called on all A&E Delivery Boards to implement measures to reduce the impact of ambulance handover delays. They have outlined key principles concerning actions to be embedded as part of normal working practice, and actions to be taken should ambulances begin to queue.

Among the principles, they state acute trusts must always accept the handover of patients within 15 minutes of an ambulance arriving at the emergency department; that leaving patients waiting in ambulances or in corridors supervised by ambulance personnel is inappropriate; and that the patient is the responsibility of the emergency department from the moment that the ambulance arrives, regardless of the exact location of the patient. It will be interesting to see if the implementation of these measures will have an impact on reducing ambulance handover delays in 2018.

Ongoing feedback on the roll out of the Ambulance Response Programme (ARP) will continue throughout the year. The ARP saw changes to the triage of calls, known as dispatch on disposition, to allow more time for call handlers in cases that are not deemed as immediately life-threatening. Additionally, new call categories were introduced to better reflect the wide range of needs patients have when they dial 999. It is likely there will be national updates on the effectiveness of the ARP, hopefully with benefits of the change being seen, in 2018.

The NHS was promised £1.6 billion for 2018/19 and £900 million for 2019/20 in the autumn budget. While this is certainly welcome relief, it is still a far cry from the £4 billion health experts said the NHS needed. It is believed £1 billion of the cash pot for 2018/19 will be used to improve performance against the 18-week target for elective treatment and £600 million to help hospitals meet the 4-hour target in A&E.

Conclusions

These are just a few of the elements that will affect paramedics this year. Other areas not mentioned include the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill 2017–19, development of the nursing associate role, the national programme to support allied health professionals to return to practice, and the final report of the Asthma Audit Development Project. There are many challenges facing the NHS in the coming year, but with the upcoming developments in the profession, paramedics will find themselves in a key position to alleviate many of these pressures.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published January 2018.

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More advanced paramedics needed if A&E pressure is to be eased

Adobe Spark (1)The NHS must introduce more advanced paramedics if emergency departments are to meet growing patient demand. The NHS is reaching a crisis point—annual rises in emergency admissions and insufficient resources mean patients aren’t receiving the necessary levels of care. Traditionally, care provided by paramedics has focused on the immediate assessment and management of potentially life-threatening emergencies. This is then followed by transfer to an appropriate receiving unit. However, increasingly, evidence suggests that patients who present to ambulance services with lower acuity presentations could alleviate the need for hospital admission by undergoing assessment and management in the community.

This is highlighted in new draft guidance published by NICE (2017), which should fall on welcome ears to ambulance services. It recommends that the NHS provides more advanced paramedic practitioners (APPs), who have extended training in assessing and treating people with medical emergencies, to relieve pressure on emergency departments.

Evaluating the evidence

In order to make these recommendations, the guideline committee investigated whether enhancing the competencies of paramedics resulted in a reduction in hospital admissions and demand for emergency department services. When considering clinical evidence, three studies were included in the review. Two studies, which came from the same cluster-randomised controlled trial, looked at a paramedic practitioner service in the UK, which gave enhanced training to paramedics.

The first study comprised 3018 people and evaluated the benefits of paramedic practitioners who have been trained with extended skills to assess, treat, and discharge older patients with minor acute conditions in the community (Mason et al. 2007). The evidence suggested that enhanced competencies of paramedics may provide benefit for reducing the number of hospital admissions (0–28 days), emergency department attendance (0–28 days), and patient and/or carer satisfaction. There was no effect on mortality.

The second study comprised 2025 people and evaluated the safety of clinical decisions made by paramedic practitioners of older patients contacting the emergency medical services with a minor injury or illness (Mason et al. 2008). Of the 3018 patients recruited into the randomised-controlled trial, 993 were admitted to the hospital at the index episode, which explains why they were excluded from the analysis in this study. The evidence suggested that there was no effect of paramedics’ enhanced competencies on unplanned emergency department attendance.

The final study was a non-randomised (quasi-experimental) study of emergency care practitioners who worked as single responders to ambulance service 999 calls, compared with standard paramedic or technician ambulance responding to ambulance service 999 calls. The study comprised 1107 people and aimed to evaluate the impact of emergency care practitioners on patient pathways and care indifferent emergency care settings.
(Mason et al. 2012). The evidence suggested that enhanced competencies of paramedics may provide a benefit from reduced numbers of patients referred to hospital (emergency department or direct admission to a hospital ward), and increased number referred to primary care.

Additionally, one cost-utility analysis was assessed to consider the economic implications of providing additional advanced paramedics within ambulance services, and found that the paramedic practitioner scheme was cost-effective compared with the standard 999 service (Dixon et al. 2009). This study was assessed as partially applicable with minor limitations.

Points for concern

There are a number of considerations when looking at the evidence in question that could be cause for concern. While evidence exists, it is minimal, with only one randomised-controlled trial and one non-randomised study evaluated by NICE. Though results from the studies are positive, it would be difficult to generalise them beyond the services assessed. Additionally, the quality of evidence is generally of a low GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations). The randomised-controlled trial evidence has a moderate-to-low GRADE rating overall, mainly owing to risk of bias and imprecision (NICE 2017). The non-randomised study, although it had large effect sizes, has a very low GRADE rating as a result of high risk of bias and indirectness of the outcomes to the protocol (NICE 2017). The economic evidence was considered high-quality but only partially applicable because the costs were quite dated. Some social care costs were also included, which means that the perspective is not strictly NHS and personal social services (NICE 2017).

There are notable concerns over the definition of an APP, as there is a national lack of consensus over paramedic roles and scope of practice. This was a contributing factor to why independent prescribing by APPs was not recommended by the CHM and MHRA (Allied Health Professions Medicines Project Team 2016).

The need for unanimity across all ambulance services is a concern the College of Paramedics emphasised inits response to the guidance:

‘There has previously been insufficient attention given to career development and career opportunities and there is currently significant variation across the ambulance services in the definitions, titles, education, and training of specialist and advanced paramedics. To ensure consistency of education, training and qualification, the UK ambulance services would need to adopt the frameworks developed by the College of Paramedics, which provide detailed guidance on education, competencies, and career development’ (College of Paramedics 2017).

The College of Paramedics has a clear definition of the APP role in terms of competencies and education:

‘Advanced paramedics are experienced autonomous paramedics who have undertaken further study and skill acquisition to enable them to be able to deliver a more appropriate level of assessment and indeed care to patients in the community and access many more referral pathways.’

It is essential that this becomes the accepted definition across the NHS, and the private health sector. This will ensure that all advanced paramedics are clinically competent and that patient safety is not at risk. More advanced paramedic practitioners with extended training could alleviate current pressures on A&E services.

From guidance to practice

Consulting on the guidance closed on 14 August, with an expected publication of 20 December. If the guidance is to be put into practice, the most important step is to introduce additional funding for NHS ambulance services to educate their clinicians through advanced practice programmes. NHS England and clinical commissioning groups would then have to provide funding to deliver specialist and advanced paramedics as part of the core workforce. Additionally, regulation is essential to ensure clinical competency and patient safety.

There is no denying that acute and emergency care is a challenge for all health services. This is largely owing to the fact that as populations age, costs rise, and technological developments extend the limits of health care. However, providing acute and medical care in the community can reduce the need for hospital admissions.

The introduction of more advanced paramedics will meet the increasing and changing needs of patients who access 999 emergency ambulance services. Having a higher proportion of emergency patients assessed and treated in the community will cause a reduction in the number of attendances at emergency departments.

References

Allied Health Professions Medicines Project Team. 2016. Summary of the responses to the public consultation on proposals to introduce independent prescribing by paramedics across the United Kingdom. Leeds: NHS England.

College of Paramedics. 2017. College of Paramedics respond to NICE Consultation [Internet]. Bridgwater: College of Paramedics; [cited 2017 29 August]. Available from https://www.collegeofparamedics.co.uk/news/college-of-paramedics-responds-tonice-consultation.

Dixon S, Mason S, Knowles E. 2009. Is it cost effective to introduce paramedic practitioners for older people to the ambulance service? Results of a cluster randomised controlled trial. Emerg Med J. 26(6):446-51. http://doi.org/ 10.1136/emj.2008.061424.

Mason S, Knowles E, Colwell B et al. 2007. Effectiveness of paramedic practitioners in attending 999 calls from elderly people in the community: cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 335(7626):919. http://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39343.649097.55

Mason S, Knowles E, Freeman J, Snooks H. 2008. Safety of paramedics with extended skills. Acad Emerg Med. 15(7):607–12. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00156.x.

Mason S, O’Keeffe C, Knowles E. 2012. A pragmatic quasi-experimental multi-site community intervention trial evaluating the impact of Emergency Care Practitioners in different UK health settings on patient pathways (NEECaP Trial). Emerg MedJ. 29(1):47-53. http://doi.org/10.1136/emj.2010.103572.

National Institute for Health and CareExcellence. 2017. Emergency and acute medical care in over 16s: service delivery and organisation: Draft guidance consultation [GID-CGWAVE0734] [Internet]. London: NICE; [cited 2017 29 August]. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/indevelopment/gid-cgwave0734/consultation/html-content.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 8 September 2017.