3,000 sign petition plea over 999 crews

Ambulance service chiefs have been handed a 3,000-name petition opposing the closure of one of the North- East's most rural stations.

Ambulance service chiefs have been handed a 3,000-name petition opposing the closure of one of the North- East's most rural stations.

Organisers of the campaign to retain a 24-hour crew at Rothbury, covering Coquetdale, were joined by north Northumberland MP Alan Beith at the ambulance service's Newcastle HQ yesterday.

Rothbury is one of seven communities in the region facing a radical review of the emergency service cover provided by North-East Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

Standby crews could be withdrawn from the village, as well as from Wooler, Haltwhistle and Bellingham in Northumberland and St John's Chapel, Middleton-in-Teesdale and Barnard Castle in County Durham.

The trust says the average number of times an ambulance is requested during the night from any one community is between four and six times a month, with 70pc of callouts "unnecessary".

They want to replace the ambulance staff with community paramedics, who would be able to call for an ambulance from the nearest 24-hour station, to take any seriously ill patients to hospital.

Handing over the petition to ambulance service chief executive Simon Featherstone, Berwick MP Mr Beith said: "The petition is a show of the strength of feeling about proposed changes to the ambulance service in Rothbury and the Coquet Valley.

"The petitioners feel very strongly that the ambulance station should be retained at Rothbury.

"There is a perceived risk that transfer times to the Wansbeck Hospital could be lengthened if a paramedic has to make an initial assessment and then call an ambulance from Alnwick or elsewhere in the county, particularly if the nearest ambulance is already on another callout."

A spokesman for the ambulance trust said all local views were being fully considered.

He said: "We thank Mr Beith for bringing the petition to our attention.

"The views of local people are very important.

"At this stage, formal consultation has not yet started, but we are working very closely with the primary care trust and other NHS partners on this project.

"At no point have we suggested removing cover from Rothbury and the Coquet Valley, and we want to have a 24-hour service available to respond to the needs of local people."

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer