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Fast response to terror attacks saves lives. UK medics should not be held back

PUBLISHED

The Streatham terrorist attack has again highlighted one of the most difficult decisions the emergency services face – deciding when it is safe to treat wounded people.

In the aftermath of the stabbings by Sudesh Amman, a passer-by who helped a man lying on the pavement bleeding claimed ambulance crews took 30 minutes to arrive. The London Ambulance Service (LAS) said the first medics arrived in four minutes, but waited at the assigned rendezvous point until the Metropolitan police confirmed it was safe to move in.

Last summer, the inquest into the London Bridge attack heard it took three hours for paramedics to reach some of the wounded. Prompt treatment might have saved the life of French chef Sebastian Belanger, who received CPR from members of the public and police officers for half an hour. A LAS debriefing revealed paramedics’ frustration at not being deployed sooner.

A group of UK and international experts in delivering medical care during terrorist attacks have highlighted alternative approaches in the BMJ. In Paris in 2015, the integration of doctors with specialist police teams enabled about 100 wounded people in the Bataclan concert hall to be triaged and evacuated 30 minutes before the terrorists were killed. The experts writing in the BMJ believe the UK approach would have delayed any medical care reaching these victims for three hours.

These are perilously hard judgment calls. Policymakers and commanders on the scene have to balance the likelihood that long delays in intervening will lead to more victims dying from their injuries against the increased risk to the lives of medical staff who are potentially putting themselves in the line of fire by entering the so-called 'hot zone'.

First responders themselves need to be at the forefront of this debate. As the people who have the experience, face the risks and want more than anyone to save as many lives as possible, their leadership and insights are vital.

In the wake of the Streatham attack the government is looking at everything from sentencing policy to deradicalisation. Deciding how best to save the wounded needs equal priority in the response to terrorism.

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Source: The Guardian, 7 February 2020

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