POLICE officers in Dorset are stepping up to drive ambulances as health services come under increasing pressures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A formal request for assistance was made by South Western Ambulance Service this week to provide additional blue-light emergency drivers.

And Dorset Police Chief Constable James Vaughan has answered this call with around a dozen officers expected to assist their fellow frontline service.

He said the situation was “all hands to the pump” during the medical emergency.

Will Warrender, chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT), said: “We are experiencing sustained and increasingly high levels of demand on our service due to coronavirus across the South West.

“This week I wrote to my police colleagues across the region to formally request their assistance in providing additional trained blue light emergency drivers to work alongside our crews.

“We work closely with the police and fire services every day, and our partnership working is a shining example of the way we all pull together to support the patients who need us during this difficult time.”

On Tuesday, Chief Constable Vaughan deployed four of Dorset Police officers to St Leonards for ambulance driver training.

He told the Daily Echo: “We are able to support the ambulance trust by training up officers to drive ambulances.

“It is genuinely all hands to the pump. This is a medical emergency.

“The police are public servants. Our first and most important duty is protection of life.

“If that means driving ambulances rather than giving speeding fines, so be it – that is exactly where we will be.

“We, along with fire, military and other colleagues, will always help in this space.”

He added: “If we can have a dozen officers driving ambulances to help out in Dorset and they have got the relevant skills, we are very happy to help.

“The officers are happy to help and there is no shortage of them wanting to volunteer to drive ambulances on their days off or as their core duty.

“I am really proud of them. Dorset Police officers and staff, like all key workers and essential workers, have really stepped up.”

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service has been supporting the ambulance service throughout the pandemic and the organisation is currently assessing how it can help even more.

In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the fire service said: “We have enhanced our co-responder scheme across Dorset and Wiltshire.

“This means more of our firefighters, who have received specialist equipment and training, will be able to respond to medical emergencies on behalf of South Western Ambulance Service.

“During the pandemic, firefighters and support staff have been supporting our South Western Ambulance Service colleagues in different ways.

“Firefighters have been driving ambulances and providing their casualty care skills and our support staff have been conducting face fit testing.

“We are currently looking at how we can support further including asking for more staff to participate in the ambulance driving."