This really is a matter of life and death. NATALIE BOWYER learned how Magpas, the medics emergency service, saves lives with its teams of doctors and paramedics. Pictures by HELEN DRAKE AN elderly man is lying at the side of a Cambridgeshire road with b

A real accident attended by Magpas paramedics

This really is a matter of life and death. NATALIE BOWYER learned how Magpas, the medics emergency service, saves lives with its teams of doctors and paramedics.

Pictures by HELEN DRAKE

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

Magpas ambulance training exercise.

Police and ambulance are called but first on the scene are 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 for ever, his breathing is stabilised and he is taken to hospital.

Luckily this is only a Magpas training exercise being held at Wyboston Lakes conference centre but it could have been very real. Last year Magpas, the emergency medical team, was called to 476 road traffic incidents, in which its specialist life-saving training would have been vital.

Chris Morris, Magpas fundraiser and PR manager, said: "It is only when you see the training first hand that you appreciate just how advanced Magpas is when it comes to treatment at the scenes of road traffic accidents.

"Our trainees take part in literally 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."

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 some 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, which are 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 life-saving 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 spaces 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 Magpas volunteer Dr Ben Teasdsale. He added: "Our work is about critical intervention, 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, as we can give patients advanced life-saving treatment at the scene."

The 18-day training course, which was established in 2003, costs Magpas £85,000 for 20 trainees. David Mee, who has been a paramedic for 29 years and who attended the training course, said: "It has been enjoyable but very stressful. 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 the living room of Jean Drake of Humberstone Way, Cambridge. To this day, the charity relies solely on public donations to carry out its life-saving 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 desperate need of support from the public to carry on our work."

INFORMATION: To find out more about Magpas or to make a donation visit http://www.magpas.net or phone 01480 371060.