999 plans given tepid welcome

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A union chief has given a cautious welcome to the announcement that the North West Ambulance Service has been given the go-ahead for more emergency vehicles and staff – although just one is coming to Blackpool.

Ambulance chiefs said communities in Lancashire and across the North West would will see a “substantial increase” in the number of ambulances and frontline staff.

Commissioners have approved funding for more than 60 new ambulances, rapid response vehicles (RRV) and emergency vehicles for community-based paramedics.

In Preston, there will be one new RRV and one ambulance; in Blackpool one ambulance; and in Lancaster one RRV and one ambulance. They will also recruit more than 400 additional frontline staff, including more than 40 in the Trust’s call centres.

The announcement of extra staff comes following the most challenging year in the Trust’s history.

Last year NWAS saw an increase of eight per cent in 999 calls, and 11 per cent for the most serious emergencies.

Steve Rice, GMB union secretary at the NWAS, said he welcomed the extra cash, but cast doubt on whether the service would be able to recruit and fill all the roles with skilled staff.

He said: “Any extra investment is welcome, because the workload has increased for many years now.

“Anything is better than nothing – but now it is down to the performance.”

Mr Rice said there was a national shortage of paramedics and some ambulance service roles remained unfilled.

Neil Cosgrove, branch secretary of the Unite union, said a lot of the jobs announced were backfilling existing vacancies.

He said: “It’s brilliant news that they have been able to get this additional funding but it’s just scratching the surface.”