Paresh Wankhade, professor of leadership and management at Edge Hill University takes a look at the new Northern Ambulance Alliance proposal and what it could mean for Lancashire residents.
If you’re involved in a life-threatening situation, you count on a swift response from the emergency services. The last thing on your mind in this stressful time would be where the service is coming from and how it’s administered.
Currently, here in the North West we are served by one NHS ambulance trust, five police forces and five fire and rescue services. This structure is fragmented and could potentially even be harmful.
But a new ambulance alliance proposed for the area could hold the key to shaping the future success of England’s struggling emergency services.
When the NHS was created in 1948, the ambulance service was a function given to the local authorities, then graduated into NHS trusts during the 1990s. As part of national re-organisation of the NHS ambulance services in 2006, the four regional ambulance trusts of Lancashire, Mersey, Manchester, and Cumbria were merged to create the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) NHS trust.
Ten years on and in a climate of austerity that has seen massive cuts in public funding, the region has stolen a march on the rest of the nation with the recent announcement that the three Northern ambulance services, North West, North East and Yorkshire Ambulance Services, will launch a new collaborative arrangement called the Northern Ambulance Alliance (NAA).
A statement issued by the new Alliance clarifies that the move is not a merger but “an attempt by all three organisations to work closer together to standardise care, identify savings through collaborative procurement and be better placed to tackle the fast moving change agenda.” This Alliance opens the door to new funding streams, whilst allowing for better collaboration and synergy with other emergency services partners. The three trusts will remain completely separate entities and will be regulated independently, and will work within the existing structure of organisations and their legal frameworks. The boards of all three trusts will still have responsibility for their individual service, but will also consider the work and objectives of the NAA when making decisions.
While the proposed changes are an important and overwhelmingly positive development for Lancashire residents who rely on the North West Ambulance Service, we need clarity and assurances about what the road ahead looks like. Will the Alliance across the three Northern trusts help to improve quality and service delivery for all patients in our region? Will we see a significant improvement in ambulance response times, which have consistently struggled to meet the eight minute response time target? Can Lancashire residents feel confident that the new arrangement is not the first step towards amalgamating the services, adding to further uncertainty in post-Brexit Britain? Can emergency services workers, many of whom reside in the region, be assured that there will be no redundancies, and that staff will not be rostered to work outside the geographical region of their trust?
In the absence of any national ambulance initiative, the proposed Northern alliance can improve and help drive the emergency services collaboration our region sorely needs. However, concerns about potential job losses, the impact on patient safety, and the means to measure performance will have to be addressed quickly. If the Northern Ambulance Alliance gets these foundations right from the outset it has every chance of building community confidence and may provide a pathway to shape the future of a struggling national service that lives across England depend on.
Paresh Wankhade is Professor of Leadership and Management at Edge Hill University. He is an expert in emergency services management and is the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Emergency Services. His research and publications focus on analyses of strategic leadership, organisational culture, organisational change and interoperability within the public services with a special focus on emergency management.