Staffordshire Ambulance Service are not the only trust in England to train their CFRs to administer life-saving drugs.

 In the East Midlands, community first responders can carry five drugs, two of which volunteers in Staffordshire are no longer allowed to use. GTN and Salbutamol were added to their first aid kits in June.

In Staffordshire, CFRs receive training over eight months, before sitting three exams and shadowing paramedic crews; volunteers recruited by East Midlands Ambulance Service are given two days' training (20 hours).

At present only five of the 60 groups set up in that area can give patients these drugs, as well as adrenalin, Glucagon which is used on diabetics, and Aspirin, but it is planned to expand their use in the region.

Phil Morris, spokesman for the East Midlands trust, said: "Most of our 400 volunteers are trained in basic first aid, which we call Level 1, but we've got five groups who have had extra training on how to use these drugs.

"They have to record when these have been used and in what circumstances, and if there's any problems at the scene they can contact a clinical manager for advice.

"The drugs we use are all drugs which can normally be self-administered by patients, so this isn't experimental medicine."

In Lancashire, CFRs are versed only in basic first aid after ten hours' training, and a further eight hours instruction earns volunteers the ability to administer oxygen to patients.

Mark Lewis, CFR manager for Lancashire Ambulance Service, said: "We have more than 500 volunteers trained as CFRs now, and the reason we've opted for basic training is we would rather be able to get more people trained to help patients rather than offer specialised training for a much smaller number.

"A great deal of training is required if CFRs are going to administer prescription-only drugs. This maybe something we look at in the future."

The National First Responder Forum, which is made up of CFR representatives from all over the UK, is currently looking to develop a national standard for these volunteers. Paul Bytheway, commissioner of operations for St John Ambulance in the West Midlands, said members who undertake training with their local ambulance service would be covered to administer these prescription-only drugs.

"They will administer drugs if they are trained and insured by their group's local ambulance service," he explained.

"We don't automatically train our members to do this but we do encourage them to improve their skills, so if they are trained by the ambulance service they can give these drugs.

"However we don't have anyone in the West Midlands who is currently trained to."


Volunteers back up ambulances

CFRs could deal with anything from a major car crash to domestic accidents or medical conditions, such as severe attacks of angina, asthma or epilepsy Ambulance services across the country were first encouraged to introduce community first responders in the Government's NHS Plan in 1999.

These are networks of local volunteers who can provide immediate care to patients where ambulances may be delayed in reaching the scene, for example in isolated rural locations or at peak response times.

Groups of volunteers can be trained by their local ambulance service and a rota system is then devised, to provide as close to 24-hour cover as possible.

Like retained firefighters these volunteers choose to help their community in their own time, as many hold down full-time jobs. Some CFRs in the Midlands include nurses, retired GPs, paramedics and community nurses.

In most cases local communities have to purchase the necessary equipment and drugs through fundraising.

Across the Midlands more than 1,000 CFRs have been trained in basic first aid and, in Staffordshire's case, to administer a raft of life-saving drugs.

All CFRs carry either a pager or mobile phone when they are 'on call', so if a 999 controller receives a call to a category A incident, which is regarded as life threatening, a message will be sent to them as well as dispatching an ambulance crew.

This could be anything from a major car crash to domestic accidents or medical conditions, such as angina, asthma or epilepsy.