Ambulance Service grilled by councillors as closure of Biddulph station looms

  Posted: 15.09.21 at 19:34 by Jack Lenton

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Councillors pulled no punches over the potential closure of Biddulph's ambulance station after a representative from West Midlands Ambulance Service attended a recent meeting.

Staffordshire Moorlands District Council's Health Overview & Scrutiny Panel met earlier today (Wednesday) to discuss the ambulance stations in Biddulph and Leek.

Nub News reported recently how the service is putting the two Moorlands stations under review, meaning they are facing the threat of closure.

A petition to save the local stations has also received over 600 signatures.

A document by WMAS Communications Director Murray MacGregor was presented to councillors before the meeting, which explained that only around 3% of cases in Biddulph and Leek were attended by the ambulances in their respective towns.

It explained: "There is a common misconception that where an ambulance starts or finishes a shift will have a substantial impact on the area that it is based in. What must be remembered is that as soon as an ambulance is available it will be sent to the nearest available case so that we can minimise the time a patient waits to be seen

"it is now rare, if ever, that the crews who work at the CAS points ever get back to the site other than for their meal break or at the end of their shift. Like the crews based at the Hubs, they literally go from one emergency to the next, 24 hours a day; they are no longer sat on a station anywhere in the region waiting for a call.

"Therefore, one of the questions we are duty bound to consider is whether it is appropriate for the Trust to spend precious funds on buildings that are rarely used when these could instead be spent on additional staff and vehicles; the things that save lives?"

The meeting was attended by Mark Docherty, Director of Clinical Commissioning at WMAS.

Cllr John Jones, who represents Biddulph Moor and is a retired paramedic, said: "I don't see why the rural community should suffer to improve services in metropolitan areas."

Mr Docherty replied: "There are lots of things that can be done in rural communities to save lives."

Cllr Jones then began to laugh, to which Mr Docherty said: "It's not nice when you're laughing, I'm not sure that's very professional. I don't find it very civil so if you can refrain it will be appreciated."

Cllr Jones said: "I don't want to get into a tit for tat, I will make my points afterwards."

A statement from Council Leader Sybil Ralphs was also read at the meeting, which stated that closing the hubs would "put lives at risk in the Moorlands".

It stated that the nearest hub would be in Stoke-on-Trent, which could take up to 25 minutes to reach Leek and considerably longer for rural areas.

It added: "While I appreciate there is an increasing demand on the NHS I am concerned that people of the Moorlands will not receive the service they deserve. Communities will suffer drastically from these closures."

Cllr Charlotte Atkins, representing Leek North, said: "People in the Moorlands are so concerned about getting rid of these ambulance posts. An elderly lady recently collapsed in the centre of Leek and was there for nearly three hours.

"Ambulances are always sent to the urban centres and not the Moorlands. How can you assure people in the Moorlands that removing these posts will not lead to a reduction in service? Staffordshire used to have one of the best ambulance services in the country - that is certainly not the case now."

Mr Docherty replied: "We are still in a global pandemic which is absolutely not over, and we are as busy as we have ever been. Three hours is not the longest we've kept someone waiting, we had someone wait over 17 hours after collapsing in their house - the waiting hours are shocking and completely unacceptable.

"Right through the pandemic we've had a 50% greater workload than we are used to with thousands of extra calls coming to us. I remember the days where you would go back to the station at the end of a job for a cup of tea, but that never happens any more. The world is changing but we're trying to still keep a service running."

Cllr Jones then re-joined the discussion, adding: "I accept everything you say, but closing the points at Biddulph and Leek won't make anything any better."

Mr Docherty said: "Some staff haven't had a day off since Covid began, we are all on our knees trying to get the best service to everybody. If we reopened every site, we would lose an ambulance for every site that reopened because we couldn't afford it."

Cllr Jones replied: "It's bad enough if you live in Biddulph or Leek, but god help you if you live in a rural area. It's got to a point where we can't believe a word the ambulance service tells us. I have no animosity towards you and I applaud your bravery for coming today, but I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall."

Rounding off the discussion, Mr Docherty added: "I'm as distressed as you are over how things are going. We have people getting off shifts five or six hours late. I saw a lady crying recently because she missed her son's fourth birthday - you don't get those things back."

To watch the meeting in full click here.

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