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COVID-19 studies focus on Ambulance Service impact

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A new University of Stirling study will assess the challenges faced by paramedics during the COVID-19 pandemic – and consider how their decisions impact patients with the virus.

The study – funded under the Scottish Government’s Rapid Research in COVID-19 programme – is one of two Stirling-led projects investigating the impact of the pandemic on the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), with the other considering the effect of psychiatric emergencies during the pandemic.

Working with the SAS, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and Public Health Scotland, Dr David Fitzpatrick and Stirling colleagues will collect data to understand how the virus has impacted the number and nature of callouts. In particular, the team will investigate patient characteristics, flow and outcomes of COVID-19 patients. 

Lead investigator Dr Fitzpatrick, Senior Lecturer, said: “Paramedics across Scotland – and the wider world – face unprecedented challenges in identifying and appropriately managing patients with COVID-19. Due to the nature of the pandemic, little is known about these patients or how the decisions that paramedics make affect their outcomes.

“We will investigate how COVID-19 patients present to paramedics, the clinical interventions delivered, and what happens to patients after the ambulance call out – for example, are they transported to the emergency department or referred to other services. Importantly, we will also be looking at patient outcomes.” 

David Fitzpatrick

Dr David Fitpatrick is leading one of the two studies focused on the Ambulance Service.

Dr Fitzpatrick’s team will rapidly inform SAS management of their findings – with a view to informing future clinical guidance and policy on the issue. He added: “We hope that our study will have a real and rapid benefit for those individuals presenting with COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr Jim Ward, Medical Director of the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “The pandemic has introduced a unique set of circumstances and new challenges and we have sought to adapt as quickly and effectively as possible to ensure patient safety. We are delighted to be working with the University of Stirling on this study and look forward to co-operating with this in-depth analysis.”

Psychiatric emergencies during the pandemic

The pandemic – and social distancing restrictions – is expected to significantly impact the mental health of people in Scotland, potentially resulting in the SAS being called out to a greater number of psychiatric emergencies.

Pre-pandemic, it was estimated that at least 10 percent of ambulance callouts in Scotland were related to mental health emergencies, and a new study – led by Dr Josie Evans – will look at how the situation may have differed during the pandemic.

Josie Evans
This study is needed to help build a clearer picture of the mental health implications of the pandemic, and the knock-on effect on other NHS services.
Dr Josie Evans Reader, Health Sciences

The research team will investigate whether there were higher numbers than expected of ambulance callouts for mental health emergencies during this period, and whether there were unexpected patterns in particular socio-demographic groups. The reasons for the callouts will be examined, and also whether patients were transferred on to other NHS services in the same way as usual.

Dr Evans – who will work with Stirling colleagues Dr Fitzpatrick, Dr Edward Duncan, and Dr Catherine Best on the project – said: “This study is needed to help build a clearer picture of the mental health implications of the pandemic, and the knock-on effect on other NHS services. Only with this knowledge can we be sufficiently prepared for any similar situation in the future.”

The University of Stirling is leading 10 major projects investigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic after receiving almost £500,000 in Scottish Government funding.

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