AN APPEAL for volunteers to respond to emergencies in rural areas of Huntingdonshire has been launched after two groups folded because of a shortage of recruits, and others look set to follow.

Since Ramsey's Community First Responders closed last year and the Warboys group in 2010, responders from neighbouring villages have been asked to attend emergencies when ambulance crews cannot reach the scene quickly enough.

But other villages in the district are also struggling with just one or two responders, the scheme has warned. In Bluntisham and Sawtry, there are only two responders who can deal with calls, and Somersham and Needingworth have just one.

Community First Responders are trained to deal with people undergoing cardiac arrest or breathing problems, who have suffered a fit or who are unconscious. Medical evidence shows a locally-based community first responder can increase the chances of survival for victims of cardiac arrest.

Responders in Ramsey attended between 100 and 150 calls a year before the group closed, while in Warboys responders attended around 70 calls annually.

St Ives community first responder Wendy Bond said: "Ambulances can be anywhere at any time, and those few moments can mean the difference between life and death.

"There are just three of us in St Ives, and last year we did 6,800 hours on duty, and went to 284 call-outs. The volunteers are fantastic and do so many hours, but there are still hours we cannot cover."

The responder scheme was run by emergency medical charity Magpas until a year ago, but now comes under the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST). Though part of the NHS, it receives no government funds and is entirely reliant on donations and volunteers.

According to a 2010 paper by the American College of Cardiology Foundation, the chances of surviving after a cardiac arrest are doubled if the patient is treated with an automatic external defibrillator before they reach hospital. All responders carry a defibrillator.

The latest dip in first responder numbers may be due to younger volunteers choosing to go to university ahead of September's tuition fees hike, said Miss Bond.

"A lot of people do it because they want experience for the ambulance service, and then they go to university," she said. "Everyone in my group has got a full-time job, but you do the hours that are convenient for you. Every little helps. It might be only one hour or a couple of hours a month. We are not going to force you to do more."

Miss Bond, who works in the ITU unit at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, signed up as first responder two-and-a-half years ago. She is encouraging others to do the same.

"I moved up here for work. I have made so many friends and I am helping my community. It is a great way to know your neighbours.

"Even if you do just a couple of hours in the evening or one Saturday a month, you could be saving someone's life.

"And, when you do a first responder course with the ambulance trust, it is a two-day course that takes you through all the basic training and scenerio work. They even teach you how to deal with situations emotionally."

Lorna Hayes, EEAST community partnership manager said: "The period of time between someone collapsing from cardiac arrest and getting their heart started again is the single most important factor in their survival. Basic life support increases the chance of survival three-fold, and the optimum time to treat a patient with a defibrillator is four to five minutes.

"Although it sounds like a dramatic scenario, with correct training almost anyone has the potential to save a life. Anyone living or working in their community can get involved with the scheme. It's an incredibly rewarding experience and something that demonstrates great community spirit."

For more information or to join contact responderadmin@eastamb.nhs.uk or call community partnership manager Wendy Risdale-Barrs on 07967 135550.