Glamour of 'Casualty' leads to plague of bogus paramedics

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The Independent Online
The glamorous macho image that popular television programmes such as ER, Casualty and Cardiac Arrest have given to the medical emergency services could be behind a "worrying growth" of bogus paramedics.

The dangerous game of impersonating ambulance crews and endangering the public is now so prevalent that opposition politicians are demanding that the Government take action to outlaw "cowboy" ambulances.

Senior ambulance officers in Britain's NHS trusts say the creeping privatisation of ambulance services has meant "sham" crews being able to operate legally. There is nothing illegal in writing "Ambulance" in bold letters across your car or wearing a flashy jumpsuit with "paramedic" emblazoned on it.

John Divall, principal training officer of the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust, who has gathered nationwide reports on paramedic impersonators, said: "The NHS Executive Intelligence Unit are aware of this. They've been gathering cases of these Walter Mitty people who seem to want to trade on the prestige of real crews. And there is nothing we can do about it. Why do they do it? There is no financial reward. Maybe they watch Casualty or ER and think it's sexy."

Tonight, on BBC Radio Five Live, a special investigation will open up the world of the would-be medics who set up their own crews, award themselves meaningless qualifications and fantasise that they are real-life heroes.

Although there have been more than 100 cases in recent years of people impersonating doctors and nurses, little is known about bogus emergency crews. In the past three years, however, cases have been logged in Glasgow, Accrington, Slough, Portsmouth, London, the West Midlands and Colchester.

In the radio investigation carried out by Ed Hall, an organisation called the London Accident and Emergency Medic Team (LAEMT), run by a London magistrate, Vernon Sexton , and his colleague, Clive Catlin, typifies a problem which Labour's health spokesman, Chris Smith, wants to eradicate.

Mr Smith said: "I am astonished at what this investigation has found. It is clear that anyone, no matter how untrained or unqualified, can call themselves a paramedic and paint 'Ambulance' on the side of their car and rush to the scene of some crisis and everyone will assume that they know what they are doing."

LAEMT is a registered charity. It operates from a flat in Tottenham, north London. Its "medical" vehicle is a rusting old Ford ambulance, with two blue lights and a siren. On it is written Ambulance and London Medic Team. The equipment inside consists of a red blanket and a wheeled stretcher. Nearby, and belonging to the same organisation, is a Nissan Sunny car marked Ambulance Response Vehicle - on Duty.

Mr Sexton, a civil servant working in health and safety at the Ministry of Defence, is also a magistrate, currently on the Youth Panel of Inner London Magistrates' Court.

In 1988 he was thrown out of a newly-formed private ambulance firm called Paramedico. In letters to Paramedico he claimed qualifications (MSSCh and MChA) which no medical college recognised. He also claimed to have been given formal professional status as "medic" by the MoD, to have regularly advised the Cabinet and the Prime Minister and to have helped the Lord Chancellor in aspects of childcare law. The MoD says it has no such designation as "medic".

The Radio Five Live programme by Ed Hall, Carry on Doctor, is at 8.35 this evening.