The Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS) that covers Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and the former Avon area, looks set to get bigger still. GWAS has announced that its preferred partner for a merger is the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWAST.)
GWAS has been looking for a way to consolidate its organisation so it can become a Foundation Trust – as the government requires. But the service’s financial situation was not considered robust enough to make the change to Foundation Trust status.
Last month GWAS said that it was looking for a suitable partner. Union members in GWAS had been worried that the potential partner might be a private organisation.
So within the year, there could be one ambulance service covering the area from the Cotswolds to the Scilly Isles.
To help explore how the two services could form a single ambulance trust, the chief executive of SWAST, Ken Wenman, will become interim chief executive of GWAS next month. He replaces Martin Flaherty who had been interim chief executive until he returned to his post with the London Ambulance Service at the beginning of this month.
GWAS was formed five years ago. It employs 1,680 staff and runs thirty ambulance stations serving a population of 2,400,000. It recently announced that it had only delivered £4.5million of its £6.9million savings target.
James Gray, the MP for North Wiltshire (shown left during a day spent with a GWAS ambulance), has expressed great concern about a merger calling it “an unwanted bean-counter-driven amalgamation”: “I simply do not believe that ‘Big’ is necessarily ‘Beautiful’ in ambulance terms”.
“I strongly opposed the creation of the Great Western Ambulance Service only five years ago, on the grounds that it would make the service available to my constituents worse, not better. That has been proved to be the case. Our ambulances tend to be called into the hospitals in Bath, Bristol and Swindon, and then to be given further tasks from there, diminishing the service locally here in Wiltshire.”
“It is my strong view that if the Great Western Ambulance Service is now to amalgamate with – for example – the South Western service, creating an ambulance service stretching from Cheltenham to the Scillies, from Bournemouth to Western-Super-Mare, from Cricklade to Dartmouth, then we would lose our local service altogether.”
“Instead, I think that we should look at sharing back office functions to reduce the overhead, or perhaps to encourage the Wiltshire Ambulance Service to do what they can to work even closer with the Wiltshire Fire and Police Services. That would increase localism as well as cutting costs.”
A recent National Audit Office report on the nation’s ambulance services found that while GWAS’ response times are good, they are amongst the most expensive in terms of cost per call out and came ninth out eleven ambulance trusts in the percentage of their budget (61 per cent) spent on frontline services.