The government is seeking a change in the law following a High Court verdict which prevents the Hatzola Jewish emergency service from using blue lights on its vehicles.
The court ruled “with regret” last week that two Hatzola medics from Manchester must be convicted of illegally using the lights because their vehicles did not meet ambulance criteria set down nearly 40 years ago.
The decision also means NHS rapid response cars and motorbikes which do not carry injured patients are barred from carrying the lights.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Jay praised Hatzola as “a responsible and public-spirited organisation”. He added: “It should not prove difficult to alight on a form of words which includes Hatzola personnel [in ambulance regulations].”
In response, the Department of Health said it “agreed that this outdated law needs to change and we are already working with the Department for Transport to amend it”.
The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, which represents NHS services nationwide, said it was in discussions with the Department of Health and the Department of Transport over changes to the Road Traffic Act that would “recognise the full scale of modern NHS ambulance response practices”.
Hatzola staff said this week that the ruling had already lengthened response times for its medics, adding potentially life-threatening minutes to the time it takes to attend calls.
The communally funded service dispatches medics within an average of 120 seconds, as opposed to NHS ambulance targets of eight minutes.
Mordechai Bamberger, one of the convicted Manchester medics, said that since the judgment last Wednesday Hatzola had been called to more than 50 incidents, including a patient with serious chest pains and a two-week-old baby suffering head injuries.
On the night of the High Court ruling, six Hatzola personnel had attended a traffic incident in which woman was pulled from a blazing car.
Despite not using blue lights, on each occasion Hatzola vehicles managed to arrive at the scene several minutes before NHS ambulances, said Mr Bamberger, who also heads the UK branch of Israel’s ZAKA emergency disaster response organisation.
But he added: “The fact we can be on a scene within a minute or two can be critical… this ruling will slow our response times.”
Dan Smith, a Hatzola medic for 10 years, said the law must be changed quickly but only trained personnel should be allowed to use blue lights.
He said: “NHS paramedics we’ve worked with have said the only time they see a defibrillator resuscitate someone at a scene is when Hatzola attend, because normally it’s too late when they arrive. Our response time is the key difference we make.”