There are fresh fears over the future of Diss’s ambulance station after the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) announced plans to remodel its facilities.
Bosses at the trust describe the new plan, signed off at a board meeting at the end of March, as a hub and spoke model, with 18 hubs supporting clusters of community ambulance stations.
This is about making the most of our estate and working with partners to share more facilities and buildings to help increase our presence in the local community especially in rural areasEast of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust spokesperson
Hubs in Norfolk would be located in King’s Lynn, Norwich and Great Yarmouth, with Suffolk’s hubs in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich.
The trust insists the strategy is not a closure programme, and said it was too early to say what would be happening at individual stations.
Simon Morley, a paramedic based at Diss Ambulance Station, said he was “extremely distressed” at the new plans, and said he had “great fears” for both staff and the public in a rural location and its current road network.
“People are already dying and coming to harm because of how long they are having to wait for an ambulance,” he said.
“The plan has massive implications for places like here in terms of ambulance care.”
He added the plan, which he said had “gaping holes”, had been sprung upon staff.
It has also drawn criticism from paramedic and Unison branch secretary for the ambulance service, Fraer Stevenson.
She said it had come as a “shock” to staff and the union.
“To find out about the proposed closure of tens of rural ambulance stations as reporting posts, and at least one emergency operations centre at a public board meeting was completely unacceptable,” she said.
“Moving rural staff to work out of a hub will increase their travel time to and from work, and further deplete rural cover.
“Staff have read the board papers and they’re very concerned about the communities they live and work in.
“Many of our members work extremely long shifts – 14 hours are common place.
“To then face a journey back to a rural community will likely impact on retention and also on recruitment.
“This appears to be an ill-conceived and extremely concerning plan the board have signed off, without first engaging with the staff and communities that this will effect.”
“The complete lack of engagement with staff or staffside in developing these plans is shocking for an NHS trust.”
The report identifies potential capital receipts of £11million from surplus properties owned by EEAST.
A spokesman for EEAST said: “The trust is currently updating its estates strategy, looking at how we are going to develop a better estate and facilities for our staff, and one that is more cost effective.
“This is not a closure programme and any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect.
“This is about making the most of our estate and working with partners to share more facilities and buildings to help increase our presence in the local community especially in rural areas.
“Currently, EEAST spends the most percentage of its non-pay spend on our estate out of any ambulance service in England.
“This means that we are spending more on our estate than we could be and we could deliver a better service to our staff by implementing a modern estate with ready-made facilities.
“The existing estate does not support the requirements of a modern ambulance service or any possible changes as a result of the ambulance response programme.
“More detailed analysis will now commence and develop a final set of proposals around where the 18 depots will be located and the supporting network of community ambulance stations and shared facilities.
“This will improve staff access to line managers and enable EEAST to develop better health and wellbeing facilities, which we can’t do on our existing estate.”