A TASK group has been set up to explore issues around plans to downgrade a volunteer medical service covering rural Cheshire.

Cheshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee created the panel to examine proposals by North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) on the future of community first responders.

First responders – who are on call to deal with life-threatening situations like heart attacks until an ambulance arrives – are fighting the plans claiming lives will be lost.

Ambulance bosses are standardising the first responder service across the region following a merger of the local trust with Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria and in response to a healthcare commission which showed there was no common standard across the UK.

The issue is heightened in Cheshire because traditionally first responders have been trained to a higher level than elsewhere.

The removal of flashing blue lights from one first responder vehicle is the only change to be implemented so far.

Other proposals, such as preventing first responders from treating children and withdrawing certain equipment, are on hold pending the scrutiny committee’s findings.

A submission by Nantwich, Alsager and Congleton town councils stated: “The Cheshire Community First Responders (CFRs) feel that to reduce the level of service and equipment they currently operate, for no other reason than to standardise the training of CFRs within the NWAS area, is unacceptable.

“Their view, and the view of the three town councils, is that the Cheshire standard is one which others should aspire to and NWAS should recognise local variations and strive to bring all CFRs to the Cheshire standard.”

Medical director Kevin Mackway-Jones, of NWAS, argued in favour of the changes in a report lodged with the scrutiny committee.

He stated: “These steps have been taken by the trust to increase the clinical effectiveness of the first responder schemes whilst ensuring that the safety of patients, responders and the public are assured.”