SINGAPORE: More nurses from SingHealth are being seconded to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), under a collaboration designed to help the public respond more effectively to health emergencies.
There are now 13 nurses on board, up from four in 2011. The move seems to be paying off, with more instances of bystanders performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
When members of the public dial 995, the call goes to the SCDF Operations Centre where it's answered by an SCDF officer. But if it's a medical emergency, such as if a person is not breathing, the call is passed on to a nurse.
Most callers are anxious so nurses will calm them down, get enough information to make an initial diagnosis and walk them through what needs to be done step by step. For instance, if someone is having a cardiac arrest, the caller will be told how to perform a simplified version of CPR.
The idea is that if you can follow simple instructions you can save lives, said SCDF’s Chief Medical Officer Shalini Arulanandam, and having nurses on the other end of the line has its advantages.
“The advantage is when a caller is distressed and needs to be calmed down and given instructions on the phone, the nurses are able to relate to them, and give medical advice.
"They don’t have to follow a computerised system - a fixed script - they can use their clinical expertise to guide the conversation and their interpersonal skills,” said Dr Shalini.
The importance of early intervention is not lost on 30-year-old Geraldine Goh, a senior staff nurse at Singapore General Hospital. Ms Goh has been a nurse for a decade and has spent the last four years seconded to the call centre.
"My dad, he passed away back in 1998, he died of a cardiac arrest in a carpark and at that point in time, there was no (such thing as) bystander CPR. So this job motivated and inspired me to help other people," said Ms Goh.
Each call that Ms Goh answers clocks in below eleven minutes - the time it typically takes for an ambulance to arrive. Over the years, she has coached callers through childbirth and taught them how to resuscitate patients.
SCDF says the move to have trained professionals at the call centre has contributed to the number of CPRs performed by members of the public. Of the cardiac arrest victims given CPR in 2011, 22 per cent were administered by bystanders. This went up to nearly 55 per cent in 2015.
The collaboration with SingHealth began in 2011 and was formalised in an agreement last year. It includes giving the nurses access to the National Electronic Health Record.
"They can also do a quick search into a particular patient's records to see if they have known history of having a heart attack before or breathing condition and this is important information relayed to paramedics on the ground," said Dr Shalini. "This will also enable paramedics to improve their care and give certain interventions.”
Under the agreement, nurses also conduct research to improve the triage process such as how to better frame questions to get the desired responses in a shorter time.