The East of England Ambulance carbon monoxide (CO) screening study, announced by the Gas Safety Trust in December 2014, has now formally commenced.

CO is the most common type of accidental poisoning and can lead to breathing, neuropsychological and cardiovascular problems and potentially death.

The Department of Health estimate that around 4,000 people attending Accident and Emergency departments in the UK are diagnosed with CO poisoning. However, accurate numbers are difficult to determine because the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning are very similar to other common illnesses and so can often be misdiagnosed by health professionals.

This study will provide evidence whether CO screening by Paramedics attending patients in their home can be effectively carried out, and so become part of the routine observations that are undertaken.

In addition to this, by using ambient air CO analysers, this study will identify the number of patients exposed to CO in the 999 emergency ambulance environment explore the experience of CO exposed patients and their clinical presentation.

The study will produce a valuable set of data of the incidence of CO exposure in the targeted area in the East of England Ambulance Service. It is anticipated that the data sample will include around 20,000 measurements taken over the 12-month study.

Gas Safety Trust chairman Chris Bielby said: “The Gas Safety Trust is delighted that this key piece of research has started. The understanding of the number of people affected by CO at lower levels is limited and we are optimistic that this study will give us a better idea of the scale of the problem in an area in which there is currently very little information.”

Theresa Foster, research manager at the East of England Ambulance Service, explained that the research idea originated from frontline crews, and the Service looks forward to the study’s findings.

The research is supported by the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care.

Dr Tricia Scott, senior lecturer in emergency care said on their behalf: "We are delighted to be working with the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust on this pioneering intervention, which aims to reduce morbidity arising from CO exposure. In the UK, around 50 people die per year from CO poisoning but we don’t know how many people have long term low level exposure. Their symptoms often go unrecognised and therefore untreated.

“This study will test for this low level exposure and raise awareness of a problem which many people aren’t aware exists. Ambient air CO analysers will be worn by ambulance clinicians and, where necessary, CO exposed patients will receive emergency treatment and will also be referred to the National Gas Emergency Service who will make sure their environment is safe. CO exposed patients and ambulance personnel will then be invited to participate in research interviews for their views on their carbon monoxide experience. The research should inform whether CO screening should be part of routine observations in the UK ambulance setting.”