Shake up will see Fylde coast ambulance stations close

Plans to replace Blackpool’s ambulance station will eventually see the closure of the four other ambulance bases currently operating on the Fylde Coast.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 2:22 pm

North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) proposes to introduce a ‘hub and spoke’ structure which it says will modernise the service.

It will mean the eventual closure of ambulance stations in Fleetwood, Thornton, Lytham and Wesham but bosses have pledged “these areas will continue to have the same number of resources allocated to them as they do now”.

A planning application has been submitted to Blackpool Council seeking to demolish the existing ambulance station on Waterloo Road in South Shore and replace it with a new three-storey base.

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An artists impression of the proposed new ambulance station

This will act as the main Fylde hub, with crews elsewhere on the coast operating from ‘spoke’ sites such as health centres, fire stations and police stations.

The model has already been adopted in other parts of the region after it was found ambulances are rarely at their station when they are despatched on a call.

A study into the activity in the Fylde and Wyre area shows 61 per cent of ambulance despatches occur while the vehicle is away from its base station.

NWAS says when crews come to the station at the start of their shift, they then leave the site for their first job and rarely go back until the end of their shift or when allocated a break.

Crews are mostly on the road or at the hospital when they receive their next call, having just finished their previous job.

Roger Jones, NWAS head of service for Cumbria and Lancashire said: “Subject to the necessary planning consents, we propose to refurbish Blackpool station – moving the staff and vehicles to a temporary site while the work takes place.

“During this time, the surrounding stations in Fleetwood, Lytham, Wesham and Thornton, will continue to operate as normal.

“Once the Blackpool site is ready and operational, we will then begin a phased closure of these stations, and despatch ambulances from Blackpool to start their shifts at carefully identified ‘spoke’ locations in the vicinity of the old sites.”

Mr Jones said the same system had been introduced in Wigan in 2017 with no negative impact on the service.

He said: “When someone calls for an ambulance, in the majority of cases, it doesn’t come from a local station – it comes from the road or the hospital having just finished its previous job.

“Because of this, we are confident the public will see no adverse difference in our response times, and these areas will continue to have the same number of resources allocated to them as they do now.

“Crews will just start their shift from a ‘spoke’ site in the community rather than a bricks and mortar ambulance station.”

He added staff would also enjoy a “much improved working environment”.

Mr Jones said: “It’s a great step forward in modernising our service and providing our staff with an effective, safe and comfortable working environment.

“The newly developed site at Blackpool will be a hugely improved base with locker, deep cleaning, parking and training facilities.

“Its design is incorporating a better infection control environment and will enable us to install a ‘make ready’ facility.

“At present, staff, at the start of their shift, stock check vehicles but this new service will mean that a specialist team will do this work, so an ambulance crew can report to the station and immediately become available to respond to patients.”

He added the new model was ” commonly used by other ambulance trusts and the feedback is that there has been no decline in performance or patient care, and the model has improved the availability of resources due to the make ready function.”

Neil Cosgrove, NWAS branch secretary for the Unite union, broadly welcomed the changes and said improved facilities were needed for ambulance crews.

He said: "People won't see the traditional ambulance station with ambulances outside, that is a thing of the past.

"Blackpool station has not been fit for purpose for some time, so we welcome the plans to replace it and we feel it will be in the right place.

"I think the hub and spoke system will work well on the Fylde coast because of the nature of the geographical area, but it's not suitable for all areas of NWAS."

However he added the union was concerned about plans to relocate the mechanical workshops from Blackpool to Broughton, with ongoing talks being held around that issue.

It was first revealed in 2019 that NWAS was considering closing stations on the Fylde coast as part of a review of NHS property.

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