Midhurst’s ambulance station could be among many others in the county under threat as ‘super stations’ are set up across Sussex, Surrey and Kent under a far-reaching new scheme by the South East Coast Ambulance Servce (SECAmb).
Over the next five years the SECAmb NHS Foundation Trust is looking to open 12 ‘Make Ready Centres’, replacing many current ambulance stations, from which staff will pick up ambulances and move to a network of strategically-placed ‘response posts’ to wait for emergency calls.
But the new system has been criticised by former Midhurst town councillor Tony Beck, who learnt of the scheme more than a year ago and has voiced his concerns.
He said: “You could either get an immediate response or you could wait forever if the ambulance was a long way away.
“It could also mean longer journeys in extremely-uncomfortable vehicles. They have been talking about withdrawing the ambulance station from various places around the county and there was a question mark over the Midhurst Station and various others. It means an ambulance could have to travel much further in order to collect and deliver a patient.
“If they are talking about ‘super stations’, I would be totally opposed to them. I want to see an improvement by way of improving the vehicles, but the response times have also got to be worked very much better.
“If they can’t guarantee better response times they have to think again.”
He said it would be vital to have a response post north of the downs: “If the only ambulance available is the wrong side of Cocking Hill in bad weather we will be in trouble.”
And in a document leaked to the Observer, more concern was expressed over a claimed lack of consultation: “There is no patient input, no union input, no ambulance staff input and no doctors’ input.”
A statement issued by the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said it hoped to set up centres in the Brighton and Chichester to Worthing areas next year.
It will mean a fundamental change for ambulance staff. SECAmb claim benefits include specialist teams to maintain the vehicles, leaving staff who now undertake these tasks to spend more time with patients.
SECAmb’s programme director of estates Geoff Catling said: “We want our staff spending more time doing the job they are trained to do – treating patients.”
The first central-reporting ‘super stations’ are due to open in Kent later this year.
Mr Catling said: “Many of the trust’s current ambulance stations were built more than 30 years ago and are not in the best position for responding to patients quickly.
“Improving response times to patients requires our crews to be where the public need them to be, when they need them; this is why you might see an ambulance on ‘standby’ in locations that are not ambulance stations.”
He said the closure or disposal of ambulance stations would take place only once a response post was up and running.
Mr Catling acknowledged the system would mean a change for staff: “In the coming months we will be looking to engage with them more about the changes.”
He said ‘engagement work’ had already taken place with local health overview and scrutiny committees which were fully supportive.