The outstanding contribution of ambulance staff was recognised today when North East Ambulance Service welcomed Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal to its Hebburn base.

The visit had originally been planned last year to mark the 10th anniversary of its Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) and the region’s NHS 111 service but was, understandably, put on hold due to the pandemic.

Her Royal Highness will also present the Ambulance Service (Emergency Duties) Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to 14 frontline ambulance staff who, between them, have more than 285 years of frontline emergency service.

HART is a specialist team of paramedics who are trained to provide life-saving medical care to patients in hazardous environments, which would otherwise be deemed too dangerous for a paramedic to enter, such as a collapsed building or firearms incident.

HART paramedics work alongside the police and fire and rescue services within what is known as the ‘inner cordon’ – or ‘hot zone’ – of a major incident. Their job is to triage and treat casualties and to help save more lives during the early stages of a major incident.

Since launching in March 2010, the NEAS team has attended more than 19,000 incidents, working alongside their ambulance and other emergency service colleagues at the centre of serious accidents or threats to public health in order to keep the region’s residents safe.

Between them, the 43 paramedics working in the NEAS HART team have over 650 years’ clinical experience. **Additional information about HART is available in the notes to editors**

That same year saw NEAS also trial the NHS 111 service in the North East.

The NHS 111 service, which is still operated by NEAS using dual trained 999 and 111 health advisors, is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, offering a multi-skilled team of advisors and experienced clinicians, who assess a patient’s symptoms before directing them to the most appropriate help.

In 2020/21 NEAS answered more than 1.3m emergency 999 and NHS 111 calls, with more than 260,000 patients taken to hospital, more than 34,000 patients treated and discharged over the phone and more than 125,000 patients treated and discharged at home.

Her Royal Highness watched a live demonstration of the Hazardous Area Response Team’s response to a terrorist incident before meeting some of the ambulance staff based at Hebburn and witnessing first-hand the contribution made by some of the region’s 999 and 111 health advisors in keeping the region safe. The visit ended with the Ambulance Service (Emergency Duties) Long Service and Good Conduct Medal presentation ceremony.

The Ambulance Service (Emergency Duties) Long Service and Good Conduct Medal is designed for emergency ambulance staff who have worked on the frontline for more than 20 years.

The medals are issued under Royal Warrant and are therefore usually presented to NEAS staff by Her Majesty’s representative, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Mrs Susan Winfield, OBE. This is the first time that a member of The Royal Family has presented the medals to NEAS staff directly.

NEAS Chief Executive Helen Ray said: “We were incredibly honoured to welcome Her Royal Highness to our service to mark the outstanding contribution our teams have made to the North East.

“The last year has been extremely challenging for us all. I’m so very proud of the contribution all our teams have made to keep the North East public safe and today we especially recognise the huge contribution that our HART and 111 colleagues have made.

“We feel particularly privileged to be able to combine our Queen’s Medal presentation with this visit. Our staff are quite rightly very proud to wear the crown badge on their uniform and we are honoured that Her Royal Highness agreed as part of her visit to bestow the medals this year.”

Simon Swallow, Strategic Head of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response, was instrumental in the establishment of Hazardous Area Response Teams nationally and led on the COVID-19 response for NEAS, working alongside partners across the region.

“This was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the great work our teams do, particularly in relation to the COVID response, pass on some knowledge and understanding about what we do, and to see them thanked at the very highest level for their hard work,” he said.

The Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Mrs Susan Winfield, said: “Every year it gives me great pleasure to meet the men and women who have given so much to our region over their years of service to present them with their Queen’s Medal. I can only imagine how hard the last year has been for all those working for our health and emergency services and I was delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness to such an outstanding facility and introduce her to some of the teams helping to keep our region safe.”

The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay said: “It was a real honour to welcome Her Royal Highness to our wonderful Borough to meet our incredible ambulance workers.

“These amazing highly skilled paramedics are right on the frontline risking their own lives to save others every day in some of the most hazardous and crucial moments of an emergency. Our valuable NHS 111 service also continues to be at the forefront of our healthcare services, keeping people safe and supporting them to get the help they need. This service has never been more important than over these challenging past 18 months.

“They are all unsung heroes and it is wonderful to see them recognised for their long service in this way, with a prestigious awards ceremony in the presence of royalty.”