All five of the Fylde coast’s ambulance stations have been listed as “surplus” and are facing closure.
North West Ambulance Service(NWAS) bosses have drawn up plans that could see them replaced with a centre hub and a series of smaller “spoke” sites –but say there are currently no plans to sell any of the bases.
However, the five – in Blackpool, Fleetwood, Thornton, Lytham and Wesham – all appear on a list, published on Thursday, of surplus NHS buildings that are “no longer required”.
And NWAS’ latest estates strategy reveals a long-term ambition to replace the bases with a “hub and spoke” model already used in other parts of the region.
The Unite union said it was getting “daily” messages from staff concerned about threats to axe sites across the North West, and said it would oppose reducing the number of stations.
Concerns have been raised that shutting local bases would leave staff travelling further to work and without adequate facilities, prompting fears some would quit as a result.
Neil Cosgrove, Unite’s NWAS senior vice secretary and lead convenor, said that, although the Waterloo Road station in Blackpool is “not fit for purpose”, the current proposals make no mention of rehousing the workshop and patient transport service currently based there.
He added: “Gone are the days when you see an ambulance station in every town and city. It’s not possible anymore.
“Staff are so disillusioned about the closures, I’ve got staff sending me emails daily.”
NWAS said the hub and spoke model works “very successfully” in other areas and would benefit staff. Its estates strategy for the next four years outlines plans for a Fylde coast hub that would see no change to the number of ambulances or rapid response vehicles in the area. It makes no suggestion about the number or location of the smaller spoke sites, which would offer fewer facilities than traditional stations. If NWAS was to push ahead with the plans, it would require a new Fylde coast hub to accommodate 12 ambulances and five rapid response cars.
According to the NHS Surplus Land list, published by NHS Digital, four of the Fylde coast sites have been earmarked for “potential disposal”, which means that, while no firm plans are in place, they have been identified as “no longer required” and with no future funding or investment planned.
For Wesham, disposal was classed as in the “pipeline”, meaning the plot “could be declared surplus, however other issues or constraints require resolving” before any sale is completed.
The five stations have combined yearly running costs of almost £380,000. It is not known how much bosses think could be raised through selling them off.
In a statement, NWAS said: “As a trust, we constantly review our estates portfolio, including our ambulance stations. We currently have no plans to close any of our sites in the Fylde area.
“In the long term, for most properties in our estate, we are considering a number of options, including redevelopments or refurbishments, keeping the sites the same or working towards a hub and spoke model.
“The hub and spoke model works very successfully in other areas of the trust and consists of a main, larger ‘hub’ station with training and enhanced restocking facilities and smaller spoke sites at key locations. This model is designed to allow for an improved facility for the restocking and preparation of vehicles and gives our staff enhanced training accommodation and a better working environment. It is also important to note that ambulances are not routinely dispatched from ambulance stations unless it is the start of a shift. Ambulances are usually allocated to incidents whilst out on the road.”
Mr Cosgrove said the union has “major concerns” over the impact on staff of shutting bases and relying on a central hub covering a larger area. “If we’re having to go back to a big hub that means the hub has got to be massive to accommodate the staff,” he said. “It won’t be. If staff aren’t happy they are going to walk.”
Many currently walk to work and will need to get a car to travel further to a central hub, he added. The union has called on bosses to retain a presence – with at least the “minimum requirements for staff”, such as parking and cooking facilities – in areas where bases close.
Mr Cosgrove also criticised the “top heavy” structure of NWAS, saying money spent on creating managerial posts would be better invested in ensuring staff have the facilities to do their jobs.
Unite is also concerned plans to create leased local hubs leaves NWAS at risk of eviction.