Campaigners wanting to save Alston’s dedicated ambulance service have hit back at claims by the North West Ambulance Service that training was offered but not taken up.
Over 1,200 people have signed a petition calling on NWAS to overturn its decision to remove Alston Moor’s ambulance after almost 50 years.
NWAS’ head of service for Cumbria and Lancashire, Gene Quinn, said that due to national changes regarding the skill level and training legally required for emergency medical technicians (EMTs), NWAS had had no choice but to modify the operational model for the Alston area.
Mr Quinn said: “NWAS has recognised the commitment of the local community team, who currently provide the resource, but the reality is that they are not trained to a high enough standard to be able to maintain a reliable, safe operating model, which puts themselves, patients and NWAS at risk.
“In the past, the training was offered to the team, but due to other commitments, they were unable to take this on.
“Because the team don’t have these necessary qualifications, it is not appropriate or safe for them to operate a trust ambulance.”
However, Alston Moor parish councillor Elaine Grew believes that it is not safe for the area to be without an ambulance.
“It will mean that people will die on the moor,” she said.
The ambulance was needed for the health and wellbeing of residents when they are ill – and that access to emergency care would be taken away with the withdrawal of the ambulance.
In addition, Alston Moor resident and ambulance campaigner Alix Martin has taken issue with the NWAS claim that the decision had had to be made because local team members were unable to take up an offer of training to meet revised standards.
She said: “Emergency Medical Technicians are bound by agreement not to speak publicly, and therefore others must speak for them.
“This assertion is entirely incorrect and residents are angered and upset by the slur on a dedicated team.
“The Alston Moor community is working together to convince NWAS of the need for this local services, and hopes for a change of mind.”
The statement adds that it is no surprise that Alston Moor, with its particular geography and dire road conditions in winter, has a unique arrangement for ambulance services.
“For decades, local people have staffed an ambulance based in Alston. When national requirements changed it was a challenge to ensure that an ambulance could continue to be provided.
“In 2014, to meet these new standards and ensure help arrives rapidly – ambulances from elsewhere take from 40 minutes to two-and-a-half hours to arrive – a new vehicle and training to emergency medical technician was provided. Now this is to be withdrawn.
“The community is determined to ensure that this decision is reversed,” the statement says.
Mr Quinn added: “We know the area is challenging in terms of accessibility, which is why we have considered a range of options, taking into the account the suggestions from the community, and are working to put in place a safer and more sustainable service.
“This will include community first responders with enhanced skills and a wider clinical scope who can provide safe and effective treatment to patients while an ambulance is en route.
“We are working with the local clinical commissioning group and local nurses to achieve this.”
To sign the save Alston ambulance petition visit https://www.change.org/p/nwas-save-alston-moors-ambulance