Ambulance plans won't save money - claim

ONE of the region's ambulance control rooms could close in a shake-up of the service - but the move may not save any money, it has been claimed.The warning came as consultations continue into proposals to merge the ambulance trusts in the East of England to form a six-county organisation.

ONE of the region's ambulance control rooms could close in a shake-up of the service - but the move may not save any money, it has been claimed.

The warning came as consultations continue into proposals to merge the ambulance trusts in the East of England to form a six-county organisation.

But concern was also voiced about the process last night after it emerged the top vacancies of the new supra-organisation have already been advertised - despite the consultation period not finishing for another month.

Currently, there are three ambulance trusts in the region - East Anglian covering Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and then Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire - and three control rooms at Hellesdon, near Norwich, Bedford and Broomfield, near Chelmsford.


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But a report going forward to Suffolk's health scrutiny committee next week says the Department of Health has only ordered 22 digital radio systems for the 11 trusts in England which will be formed from the planned mergers.

It says: “The implication is that there will only be 22 control rooms, two for each new trust (i.e. one of the Eastern region control rooms would have to close).”

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However, the committee will hear how the savings likely to be delivered by the proposals are “minimal”.

For the report says in order to ensure local co-ordination, a county commander structure would need to be set up and it would “cost as much as the savings made”, leaving “absolutely no scope” for any other operational savings.

Andrew Egerton-Smith, chairman of the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust, said he thought the report's stance on funding was “fair comment”.

A merged trust would see two of the region's boards disbanded, saving around £500,000 per board, but he said it would be “absolutely essential” to have a senior tier of staff at county level, which he said would cost more.

A working group, after visiting the East Anglian ambulance trust, said it felt “deep concern” that the Strategic Health Authority's (SHA) consultation document refers to control rooms as an overhead.

The report to the committee says: “This was felt to reflect a superficial and unthinking approach to the proposals. The control room, and how it is run is 'an absolutely crucial part of the service'.”

It later adds: “It would make no sense to close or move the control room, which has only just been opened and is well situated to attract good quality staff.”

The report also warns the merger of the trust could be detrimental to performance.

“Whist a merger would no doubt bring some improved management practices, there was a risk that the new organisation would drift to the lowest common denominator - a levelling down of service levels, rather than a levelling up,” it says.

Mr Egerton-Smith also revealed advertisements for a chairman of the new merged board and interviews for a chief executive were already going ahead, despite the consultation not finishing until March 22.

“It's all being done to us with one option only. It's not an option A or B, it's this or this.

“A comment that is made quite regularly is 'what's the point of consulting when there is only one thing being offered',” he said.

But Professor Sheila Salmon, chairman of the Essex Ambulance Service, said: “We are supportive of the move to create a service across six counties and believe benefits to patients will result.

“There is no plan from our perspective to reduce the number of operation centres but obviously the new chief executive and team will need to consider the future.

“In terms of savings, we expect the reduction in the number of trust boards alone to result in savings which can be invested in front line services.”

The Suffolk report, compiled by an officer, raises points from the working group for the health scrutiny committee to discuss.

The committee is made up of councillors from the county, district and borough councils and its role is to review and scrutinise any matter relating to the planning, provision and operation of all health services in Suffolk. It will meet on February 28 to agree its response to the three NHS consultation documents on the reconfiguration of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), ambulance trusts and SHA.

A spokeswoman for the SHA said: “The Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire SHA welcomes views from all members of the public and stakeholders across the three counties.”

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