Health checks for coastguard volunteers

SOME of the region's voluntary auxiliary coastguard may have to give up their posts -after a new regime of health checks.

THEY are the eyes and ears of our coastline, keeping watch over beach and seas and rescuing those who have got into difficulty on the coast.

But some of the region's voluntary auxiliary coastguard may have to give up their posts after a new regime of health checks.

Last night, Suffolk MP John Gummer hit out at the tests and said people would be safer with some cover than none at all.

So far, 80 volunteers in the eastern region have been given medicals by occupational health nurses. One has failed and 13 have been suspended for further checks.

It means that Southwold coastguards have to cover as far as Aldeburgh because the Aldeburgh team has been stood down. One volunteer there failed, and a further five need more tests - which mean that the team of eight is much too short-staffed to operate.

Tests are still underway in North Norfolk, Yarmouth and Lincolnshire coastguard areas. And, with nearly three quarters of the region's 300 volunteers still to be checked, more teams may yet have to stand down if their members prove unfit.

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Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman Mark Clark said this was a risk, but said it was important that those involved in organising rescues were healthy.

“They have to be in all senses fit for purpose,” he said.

“The job is strenuous, no doubt about that. It can be highly dangerous.

“We are asking people to put themselves in unpredictable circumstances to save someone and we don't want the rescuer to need help as well. If you are all hauling on a rope to get someone up a cliff you don't want someone to be keeling over.

“We are not questioning anyone's commitment. The police and fire service already do these tests and in a sense we are coming late to the game.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Mr Gummer said: “This is pretty pointless if there isn't anyone left to rescue you. I would much rather be saved by someone, as long as they were able to rescue me, than by no one at all.

“I am very proud of the people who do this voluntary work and the fact that this is being made more difficult for them is very sad.

“They wouldn't do the job if they didn't think they were up to it.

“I have got some serious concerns about what the point of the health checks is. I will ask for more information immediately.”

Many of those who have been referred for further tests have high blood pressure, which is a condition that can be worsened by stress.

Unlike lifeboat crew, coastguards are land-based and volunteers get involved in searches and rescue along the cliffs and shore and sometimes in the sea. They are based in teams of eight to 12 at towns around the coastline.

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