Ambulance station closures will not be postponed despite residents' pleas

Plans to close Oswestry's community ambulance station will not be postponed, a senior director has confirmed.

Four ambulance stations across Shropshire will close their doors next week
Four ambulance stations across Shropshire will close their doors next week

Frustrated residents called for ambulance station closure plans to be postponed at a public meeting on Monday evening, saying there had been a lack of consultation.

Oswestry, Market Drayton, Craven Arms and Bridgnorth are all set to lose their community ambulance stations next week. West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) claims the move will improve response times by not tying up ambulances travelling to and from base stations.

Plans have been meet with concern from residents living in rural areas who believe the closures will result in longer waiting times and a poorer service.

At a meeting on Monday evening, members of the public, representatives from WMAS, Oswestry Town Council and North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson, met to air their views.

Bosses revealed the closure of the 10 ambulance stations across the whole of the West Midlands, including the four in Shropshire, would save around £750,000.

Mark Docherty, Director of Clinical Commissioning and Strategic Development at WMAS, said the ambulance service was "on its knees" at the moment, and reducing costs on buildings which aren't used could improve the service.

He said: "We are really busy at the moment and if we have failed to communicate along the way we are really sorry.

"I want more ambulances. Having retained buildings is not needed. Having a garage nowadays is not a modern way to deliver an ambulance service."

Murray MacGregor, communications director at WMAS, said the main reason for longer ambulance response times is because the vehicles are sat outside the county's two main hospitals waiting to go in.

"Our response times in Oswestry and other rural areas are not good enough and we want to do something about that," he said.

"We are talking about 5-6,000 patients that we can't get to at all, that we could do if we freed up crews.

"People say it's about trying to save time. The thing that is costing us the most amount of time is the hospitals. In August 2021, we lost more than 15,000 hours outside of hospitals."

They said the decision to close the stations had to be made for the service to be able to get through the winter.

Leaders of the Facebook campaign group, Save Oswestry Community Ambulance Station, Lawrence Chapple-Gill and Sian Tasker, urged the trust to postpone the plans.

Ambulance bosses have said time is lost due to ambulances queuing outside hospitals

Mr Chapple-Gill said: "It's a shame we did not have this meeting a few months ago instead of a week before the closure. That's what makes a lot of people angry.

"It was said by Murray that a lot of the anger is based on fear of the unknown. Well I lay that at the door of WMAS because if we had a meeting like this we could have raised these issues months ago."

A petition by the group against the decision has more than 3,000 signatures in the 22 days since it was established.

He added: "The decision should be at the very least postponed or delayed until proper community engagement has taken place.

"Over the years Oswestry has lost the community hospital, the maternity unit, most NHS dentists have left, and now we are about to lose this community ambulance station.

"The decision is being made by people it doesn't affect. They should show Oswestry some respect."

But Mr Docherty said the community ambulance stations were not needed and plans had already been accelerated for the trust to get through the winter ahead.

When asked if the plans were a done deal, Mr Docherty said: "The answer from our point of view is we don't have the resources.

"We are going to get more paramedics and ambulances. They don't need a building, I'm sorry.

"I can't justify keeping a building open that's not doing anything. I did not come here expecting to win an argument. I would have been happy to have come here a few months ago.

"We had to accelerate our plans because we would not get through winter if we kept postponing very difficult decisions."

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