Merger of 999 services 'route to best care'
The South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) has formally absorbed neighbouring Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS).
The new service will see more than 2,000 patients every day receiving emergency care following their 999 call to the new single ambulance service serving the entire South West of England.
In addition to Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the area covered by SWASFT now includes Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and the former Avon.
Ken Wenman, the chief EXecutive of SWASFT, said: "We believe the enlarged organisation has the opportunity to provide the best care available in the country to patients and we are committed to delivering benefits to the public and patients across the South West.
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"With a larger workforce, we have greater resilience and flexibility to meet the challenges in healthcare in the months and years ahead. Also, we are better able to invest in cutting-edge treatment and research, and to continue to train our staff to better care for patients in the out-of-hospital environment. With an annual turnover of £210 million, we can benefit from greater economies of scale to obtain better value in buying medical equipment and emergency vehicles."
The enlarged service will run a fleet of around 295 ambulances, absorbing the existing fleet from Great Western which currently has just over 100 ambulances and 80 rapid response vehicles. However patients may still expect to be picked up by staff in old livery, as the service only replaces and re-brands its operations on a seven-year rolling contract.
Mr Wenman said the move will result in significant savings, up to £1.5 million in the first year alone.
"We will be able to cut costs as we negotiate better bigger deals," he said.
But the spectre of job losses still looms, although no decisions will be made before June. Some administrative staff will no longer be needed as many headquarter roles move to Exeter, while the new merged service will no longer need two boards of directors.
"Frontline staff will not be cut back," insisted Mr Wenman. "At the point of delivery our service will continue to be first class."