Shropshire Star

Air ambulance base decision taken before mitigation plans are finalised

The decision to close Welshpool and Caernarfon bases and develop a new base in North Wales has been taken even though the location of the new base is officially unknown and the bespoke rapid response vehicle service – does not exist yet.

Chief Ambulance Service Commissioner, Stephen Harrhy,

Chief Ambulance Services Commissioner Stephen Harrhy said recommendation 4, to create a bespoke vehicle service, was a direct response to concerns the people of Mid Wales had expressed in the engagement meetings.

But after 18 months of consultation and work on the proposals, there are no details of how the rapid response service would look, apart from two new fast moving land ambulances would be stationed in the north west.

Mr Harrhy told The Welsh NHS’ Joint Commissioning Committee meeting that no area would have a worse service – that was a red line in his planning.

He said the air ambulance is a special service but it could do more and he claimed these plans would allow it to reach more people in need of emergency help.

He said at the moment the highly specialised air ambulance service attends about one per cent of Wales’s 999 call-outs and he feels the new road-based service could attend up to 12 per cent of red and amber 999 calls.

He said it was in addition to the air ambulance not instead of it.

He said the Wales Air Ambulance charity backs the plans and was ‘very keen’ to get it confirmed and the plans are also backed by the NHS staff on the ambulances, the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMERTS).

But Chief Executive of Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board and former Powys health board chief executive, Carol Shillabeer said the lack of detail over the new land ambulances was ‘disappointing’ and did not give the public the reassurance it needed.

She said she was also concerned about maintaining clinical expertise in rural areas to ensure that the rapid response service would be sustainable for the future.

Lay member Susan Elsmore said there had been unprecedented levels of interest in the matter from the public, politicians and clinicians.

It was evident by a public petition, which was started in Powys which had over 30,000 signatures.

Aneurin Bevan Health Board Chief Executive Nicola Prygodzicz said her health board was reassured and felt there would be an improved service across Wales, with no population detrimentally affected by the changes.

But Powys Teaching Health Board Chief Executive Hayley Thomas said the plans needs to reassure the public in rural areas that they will not have a worse service going forward and she said they have a huge job in re-building public confidence on this matter.

Richard Evans the Chief Executive of Swansea Bay Health Board suggested delaying the decision for six months until more details are available on the rapid response service.

But Mr Harrhy said the Wales Air Ambulance charity needs certainty and needs to ‘see a direction of travel.”

Summing up, the committee agreed an amendment to recommendation four – the rapid response vehicle service – that an outline of the milestones of creating the service should be presented at their May meeting.

They also agreed two extra recommendations – a review of the process to ensure they learn lessons and to receive regular progress reports on achievement of the implementation plan milestones, and benefits realisation.

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