Shropshire Star

Shropshire councillors call on Welsh Air Ambulance chiefs to explain plans to move

Councillors from both sides of the Powys-Shropshire border have combined forces to try to haul air ambulance chiefs in front of a county committee.

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The Welsh Air Ambulance could move away from Welshpool

Heather Kidd fears that a move of the Welsh Air Ambulance from Welshpool Airport would only add to difficulties with delays to land ambulance response times in the county.

Councillor Kidd's rural Chirbury and Worthen ward is already in a relatively remote part of Shropshire close to the border with Mid Wales, and air ambulances from Welshpool are sometimes used in her part of the world.

"We need to be briefed as Powys County Council have and we must be included in their consultation," Councillor Kidd is set to tell a meeting of Shropshire Council's ruling cabinet next week.

She said: "This provides good cover both sides of the border to areas of Shropshire which have very poor terrestrial ambulance response time now and historically.

"The base's removal to North Wales will put 20 minutes or much more to areas along the borders response times. Our Shropshire communities often raise money for both this air ambulance and the West Midlands ones."

The Lib Dem councillor joined forces with her party colleagues Danny Bebb from Churchstoke in Powys, Nigel Hartin, from Clun, and Ruth Houghton, from Bishop’s Castle, to jointly express that they are appalled by "the suggestion that our area should lose this key facility".

The four have now asked for a special meeting with air ambulance bosses.

Councillor Bebb said: “The air ambulance has put forward a number of reasons behind this proposed move. Prominent amongst these is the supposed lack of ability to operate at night from Welshpool. From our discussion with the management at Welshpool Airport this is patently not the case.”

Councillor Houghton added: "Air ambulances operate on both sides of the border according to circumstance and availability. Adding another 20 minutes plus flight time to potential rescue flights would create a potentially big gap in capability, not just in Mid Mid Wales but Shropshire too. With our ground-based ambulance service so badly stretched, this could create serious problems“

And Councillor Nigel Hartin said the move could hit fundraising for air ambulances, which rely on public donations to keep them airborne.

Four councillors unite to lobby for air ambulance chief to be hauled to Shropshire committee

He said: “The Welsh Air Ambulance and the West Midlands Air Ambulance both operate in our area and many community councils and local groups fundraise for both. It impact quite significantly on the money raised for the latter if they went ahead with this proposal, which frankly looks like a cost-cutting exercise.

A decision on whether the Wales Air Ambulance should move is set to be made be made early next year.

The timetable was confirmed by the Welsh First Minister in a letter to the Montgomeryshire Member of the Senedd, Russell George.

Mr George had written to the First Minister asking him to clarify confusion over data that supported the proposals to move the Wales Air Ambulance base, closing its site at Welshpool Airport.

The potential move to join the North Wales Air Ambulance, possibly at a new base alongside the A55, is strongly opposed by Mr George and communities across Powys.

Mr George’s letter to the First Minister came after he asked Mark Drakeford if he would release the data that supported the proposal, to which the First Minister had claimed that the data behind the decision did not belong to the Welsh Government.

He has replied to Mr George setting out the current situation over the proposals writing: “No decisions have been made about any change to where the service is based and a formal proposal has not yet been submitted. The All-Wales Board of Community Health Councils is currently discussing the arrangements for the engagement around the service development proposal and it is expected the proposal will be formally submitted at the start of next month. A decision will be made in early 2023.”

The charity said making the move would allow it to attend more than 500 extra emergencies each year. The service said moving north could see daily hours extended from 12 to 18 and two crews and two helicopters able to fly from the new base.

It said medical shift patterns and base locations could be changed so it could go to 538 more call-outs every year.

A spokesman for the Wales Ambulance Service explained that the analysis and proposals have been put forward by the charity's medical partners, the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS).

"As the analysis has been conducted by EMRTS, the engagement process is aligned with NHS Wales governance," said the spokesman. "There is a process of independent scrutiny and public engagement that is being led by the Chief Ambulance Services Commissioner."

Responding to the Shropshire Star Wales Chief Ambulance Services Commissioner, Stephen Harrhy said that proposal had been discussed at a meeting of The Emergency Ambulance Services Committee earlier this month.

He said: "A significant number of comments and queries have been received from key stakeholders and the committee agreed that further scrutiny was required in a number of areas before further steps were taken.

"I will continue to work with the Community Health Councils in Wales regarding the process to be followed in relation to this work.

"A final decision will not be made until the new year."