Saving life on the spot

AN elderly man is lying at the side of a Cambridgeshire road with breathing difficulties after being mown down by a motorcyclist. Police and ambulance services are called, but first on the scene is a MAGPAS doctor and paramedic. They check for a pulse an

AN elderly man is lying at the side of a Cambridgeshire road with breathing difficulties after being mown down by a motorcyclist.

Police and ambulance services are called, but first on the scene is a MAGPAS doctor and paramedic. They check for a pulse and look for any obvious injuries. The 88-year-old man is groaning in pain and paramedics are concerned about his airways. I am drafted in to help support the man's neck and, after what seems like forever, his breathing is stabilised and he is taken to hospital.

Luckily this is only a MAGPAS training exercise being held at the Wyboston Lakes conference centre near St Neots, but it could easily have been real. Last year, the MAGPAS emergency medical team was called out 476 times, when there were road traffic incidents at which their specialist life-saving training would have been vital.

Chris Morris, MAGPAS fund-raiser and PR manager, said: "It is only when you see the training first-hand that you appreciate just how advanced MAGPAS is at the scenes of road traffic accidents. Our trainees take part in the leading course of its kind in the UK."

The trainees take part in simulated exercises, which feature Simmen dummies that have a pulse and make life-like breathing noises.

Mr Morris added: "The training is very hands-on, including doctors and paramedics working on computer-controlled medical dummies that can be operated on."

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In one scenario MAGPAS recruits are required to recover a Sim-baby from a car after a road traffic accident. The youngster has respiratory difficulties and needs to be stabilised before being taken to hospital. Acting as a passer-by, I am drafted in to hold the baby's head while teams work fast to stabilise her breathing.

Even though the baby is only a dummy I still feel an overwhelming sense of panic that if I were to suddenly let go of her head I could cause serious damage. As I kneel on the floor alongside the paramedics, my hands are shaking with adrenaline and fear.

"The training situations create a real sense of emergency for trainees. The training is tough - it challenges all of their previous knowledge to show them just how much they need to learn. Then we teach them everything they need to know," said course director Dr Rod McKenzie. He added: "The fact that doctors and paramedics are willing to take time off work to subject themselves to this sort of stress shows their commitment to saving lives."

Also taught on the course are amputations and chest drains, carried out on real pig limbs and sheep chests. Dr James French, who has been with MAGPAS for four years, said: "Practising on real flesh makes it more lifelike than the dummies. Doing this means the trainees can perfect their skills before they use these lifesaving techniques on patients at the roadside."

An ambulance is used as part of the training to allow doctors to familiarise themselves with working in confined space rather than an operating theatre. In the ambulance a computer-controlled dummy has been modified to allow for blood to spill out of holes in its body and vomit to come out of its mouth. Outside the ambulance is a picture of a real road traffic collision attended by MAGPAS where a man was knocked off his bicycle and there is blood on the road. "The team would have had to work quickly to save this man's life as he had lost a lot of blood," said volunteer Dr Ben Teasdsale. He added: "Our work is about critical invention, we give people the life-saving treatment they need to get to hospital. It is estimated that it often takes an hour to get a patient to hospital and that's where MAGPAS comes in."

The 18-day training course, established in 2003, costs £85,000 for 20 trainees. David Mee, a paramedic for 29 years who attended the course, said: "As a paramedic it is important to keep my skills up-to-date and I have learnt so much on the course. I have attended accidents where Magpas have been in attendance and I've been thoroughly impressed by their work and wanted to learn more." He intends to dedicate up to 400 hours of his time free of charge to MAGPAS over the next 18 months.

Established in 1971 by Dr Neville Silverton, MAGPAS was first co-ordinated from a living room in Cambridge. The charity relies on public donations to carry out its work. Mr Morris said: "Two years ago MAGPAS was only six months away from closing. Now we have raised enough to buy us more time but we are still in need of support from the public."

MAGPAS facts

It costs £450,000 a year to run. On average there is one serious accident per day. A bag for a MAGPAS paramedic costs £400, the medical kit inside costs £10,000, and a fire retardant suit costs £600. The training dummies cost £35,000. MAGPAS has 45 doctors and paramedics, excluding the 20 trainees on the course. Most people volunteer to do two days each month and they will do shifts of either 7am to 10pm or 8am to 6pm. The course teaches MAGPAS paramedics how to deal with: Night-time incidents

Injured people at riots Incidents involving chemical, radioactive, nuclear and biological chemicals Height awareness Fire entrapment Water rescue.

INFO: To find out more or to make a donation, visit or telephone 01480 371060.