HEALTH bosses last night acknowledged concerns over a review of ambulance cover in the region.
NHS North of Tyne – the body which commissions ambulance services in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland – said it recognised concerns over the impact of the North East Ambulance Service’s (NEAS) review on rural areas, and that it would be raising these with the organisation’s management.
One trade union which represents ambulance workers claims the planned changes “may have consequences in terms of care and response”.
NEAS has proposed a new structure which would, it says, mean relocating some ambulances across the North East.
An expanded “non-emergency” tier is also being proposed to respond to patients who are not classed as 999 emergencies.
The proposals would see an increase of 67 staff and nine additional ambulances across the North East.
As reported by The Journal last week, Berwick in Northumberland is one community which stands to lose an ambulance under the review.
Vehicles also stand to be removed from Wide Open, Blucher, Hexham, Haltwhistle and Wallsend, North Tyneside.
In South of Tyne, there are proposed cuts at South Shields, Monkton, Gateshead, Pallion and Ryhope.
The Durham area is proposed to lose vehicles at Stanley, Peterlee, Bishop Auckland and from the city’s Gilesgate site. Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith last week warned that the removal of the town’s service could put lives at risk if patients in the town have to wait for paramedics travelling long distances.
Now, NHS North of Tyne has said it is aware of concerns over the impact of the review in rural areas such as Berwick, and vowed to take them up with the NEAS.
A spokeswoman said: “As commissioners, we recognise the concerns in some areas about rural response times. We are already in discussions with the trust about what could be done to improve these.”
Trevor Johnston, lead officer for health in the Northern region of union UNISON, has voiced doubts over the proposals.
Mr Johnston, whose union represents 1,700 of the service’s 2,000 workers, said: “We are not convinced it is the best way to go. The question of places like Berwick, one going from Durham, which we think is not well thought out and which may have consequences in terms of care and response.”
The Berwick MP meanwhile set up a petition opposing the removal of a town ambulance, and has also secured a meeting with NEAS chairman Tony Dell on Friday.
He said: “Over 500 people have now signed my petition to save our ambulance, in just a few days, showing the strength of feeling about this issue.”
Paul Liversidge, NEAS director of operations, said of the review: “Our objective is to ensure a paramedic is sent to every 999 patient who needs one; that there are more front-line paramedic-crewed A&E vehicles available for life-threatening emergency calls; and that we provide a service which allows us to meet the demand from non-emergency patients.
“Our existing service was last reviewed in 2006 and no longer represents an efficient or productive use of resources.”