Ambulance staff in Lancashire could ballot for strike action over proposals to slash the service.
Union officials today revealed the North West Ambulance Service has advised them on a major ‘cost improvement programme’, which they said will affect frontline services.
The proposals are understood to include:
- Cutting the ambulance fleet at some stations across the county
- Decreasing the number of hours on the road for life-saving Rapid Response Vehicles;
- Downgrading the skill levels of staff in ambulances so they are only able to handle urgent rather than emergency cases. Paramedic Bob Parkinson, branch secretary of Unite, based at Walmer Bridge, near Preston, said: “We are opposed to any proposals to downgrade the fleet as we believe this will put people’s lives at risk.
“We have further consultations planned with management but this move could potentially lead to a ballot of our members for strike action as they are extremely angry.
“Only recently we have seen a number of examples where people have had to wait an unacceptable amount of time for an ambulance to arrive – and that is before these cost cutting measures come in to operation.
“Any moves to cut the fleet or the hours in which it operates will only lead to further examples of this.”
The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) says the decisions have been based on an analysis of usage.
In Leyland, the times that the Rapid Response Vehicle (RV) will be operational is proposed to be cut.
There is currently one RV in the town which operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The proposal is to take the RV off the road from Monday to Thursday between midnight and 8am.
During this time, Leyland will have RV cover from the Preston and Chorley RVs.
Chorley currently has one response vehicle working 24 hours and Preston has one 24-hour vehicle and one which works three weeks out of each month.
It is understood one of the stations where the ambulance fleet will be reduced is in Burscough.
However, the ambulance service was unable to confirm specific details yesterday.
A spokeswoman said some stations may be losing an RV and getting an Urgent Care vehicle while other stations will be losing a few hours of one vehicle’s time and getting a response vehicle for that time frame instead.
NWAS also said it is not reducing the number of paramedics, saying it wants all ambulances to have a paramedic on them.
The ambulance service needs to save £13.8m in 2014/15 – £2.1m on the frontline.
The proposals come a few weeks after the Evening Post reported on a great-grandmother who waited more than 90 minutes in the pouring rain for an ambulance after breaking her hip.
Ann Howles, 70, of Merryburn Close, Fulwood, Preston, slipped as she took her dog for a walk.
A passer-by called 999 for an ambulance at 6pm, but after 90 minutes and two more 999 calls, her family say an ambulance still hadn’t arrived, although the exact time taken has been disputed by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS).
Mrs Howles’ daughter, Julie Higham, 49, said she was forced to flag down a passing police car to finally get an ambulance to her mum.
Derek Cartwright, director of operations for the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “For some time we have been looking at our service to ensure that emergency vehicles are sent to patients who need them and those who don’t are offered the most appropriate care.
“It is true that, like all NHS trusts, we do need to make some financial savings throughout the organisation. However, patient care is always our primary focus and we would always ensure that the public still have access to the care they need, whether that is via an emergency ambulance or redirection to other, more appropriate, healthcare services.
“The ambulances we place in communities are planned around patient need and activity.
“We routinely review this throughout the North West, based upon the activity in local areas and if evidence shows that the vehicles provided are not working to full capacity, we would consider changing the hours it works.
“We know that not all patients who request an ambulance need one and that alternative care is more appropriate to their needs, for example an appointment made with an out of hours GP service.
“To assist with this, we have invested approximately £500,000 in providing more appropriate responses to non-life-threatening emergencies, such as our Urgent Care service, which provides telephone advice and triage and can direct patients to more appropriate services.
“Red 1 and 2 calls – the life-threatening calls – account for only 38.7 per cent of all 999 calls and approximately 20 per cent of all our patients are not taken to hospital.
“This means there is a large proportion of patients who don’t necessarily need an emergency vehicle to take them to an Emergency Department and at times, can be treated in their own home. This then frees up our ambulances to attend to those who urgently need us.”