Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Voluntary Aid Societies (VAS). Some of you reading this may well be part of them, Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, St. Andrews Ambulance. I am. Which one is not important. Indeed it was getting involved with the VAS during my first degree that got me into EMS in the first place. However, being part of one of these organisations is often frowned upon by many in EMS. It’s almost a stigma and many think less of you because of it.

Now I do understand some of the reasons why. I see the good, the bad and the downright worrying within my organisation. While this can also be said of EMS (I’m sure we can all identify one or more individuals we would NOT want turning up to us or our families!) the appears to be a higher concentration in VAS possibly because the need to make up numbers and only having those who volunteer to do it with. So you sometimes take what you can get and have less room to be picky. Not a good excuse but a reason none the less. I have also been informed by some friends in London that during the ambulance strike back in 1989 St. John Ambulance volunteers worked and this was seen as them working against the strike so there is still some animosity from that.

However, I have found that, along with the bad and the ugly there is indeed some good in what these organisations do. Some support that ambulance services in times of need providing ambulances and crews to cover some of the lower grade 999 calls freeing up frontline NHS services to attend the higher priority calls. Some NHS trusts favour one VAS over the other, some don’t work with any. They also provide first aid provision at thousands of events every week. Volunteers. Not being paid. Surely that has to be commended? I personally don’t do much front line direct care (I do that at work) instead choosing to give my time in other ways within the organisation utilising some of my other non-clinical skills. But I also get something back from all this. I get courses which improve my skills from leadership to recognised planning, major incident and training qualifications which I can add to my CPD and aid my career progression.

But, what I wanted to know is this: Do VAS have a place within EMS? And if so what? Should we be actively working with them to raise their standards? Should they be confined to providing first aid at fetes? Should they be providing support to ambulance services? Do they have the skills to be answering 999 calls?

Well, I look forward to seeing what people think.



  1. NM, I have been a member of a VAS and am due to start a job as an SP in the new year. Without a doubt my time as a volunteer helped me get the position but only because I am able to see what I have learnt through my volunteering and apply it to other situations. Unfortunately my organisation/ region does not seem to be as forthcoming with opportunities as yours!

    Personally I feel that VAS (at least the organisation I was part of) should not be responding to 999 calls. Maybe because I have seen more of the bad and the ugly than the good?! There are some outstanding members who I would have attend myself or my family, but they are few and far between. I know that here there is not the appropriate governance (and thus clinical and professional standards) to be doing so, and the first thing that suffers is patient care.

    I do think that VAS are invaluable when providing first aid at public events (including the ambulance crews and HCPs that attend).

    VAS would benefit from the input of local statutory services but I'm unsure if it would be reciprocated - I also think that management positions with any clinical responsibility should be filled (or perhaps assisted) by an appropriate healthcare professional. During the 4 years that I was a member I saw huge peaks and troughs in the management of my organisation, and the aforementioned standards - with some of the troughs being absolutely dire and often dangerous to members and the public. Perhaps strict guidance from external organisations would provide some stability.

    Apologies if this seems rather a negative comment, unfortunately my view on this is biased by the problems I have encountered locally!

  2. Don't think this is negative, more realistic. If a particular VAS isn't up to scratch then indeed they should not be providing support.