It is feared the lives of residents in Cheadle could be put at risk after West Midlands Ambulance Service announced plans to close the town's community response post.
The 4×4 rapid response vehicle is set to be removed from the Cheadle post at the end of this month.
It will be replaced by a double-crewed ambulance – but the community response post is due to be closed within the next three months.
Community leaders have condemned the closure of the Ashbourne Road facility – and demanded that West Midlands Ambulance Service’s (WMAS) chief executive attend the next meeting of Cheadle Town Council on Monday, January 20.
But a WMAS spokesman has said that there are no plans to change the level of ambulance provision in Cheadle or the surrounding areas.
He added: "If anything, this will increase over the coming months.
“The trust is to convert the rapid response vehicle (RRV) that is currently stationed at Cheadle into a double crewed ambulance and as part of that change, the community response post in the town will close by the end of March 2020.
Currently, 97.8% of calls within Cheadle and the surrounding area are attended by vehicles other than the response car; it attends just 2.2% of calls.
“Given the cost of providing the post, and how few calls the car based there attends, it is no longer financially viable to keep the building which is seldom used except at the beginning and end of a shift. We would much rather use that money to pay for additional paramedics and emergency vehicles which will respond to patients in their hour of need, saving lives.”
Concerns have been raised about ambulance services travelling from outside the area to attend medical emergencies in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Retired paramedic Carole Winning, who attended the Cheadle Town Council meeting with former colleague Denise Gilbert, said afterwards: “In 1998, before the RRVs were put into place, it took at least 25 to 30 minutes to get to Cheadle.
“With the increase in volume of traffic and people calling 999 the result will be loss of life for people living in rural areas, as it shown in Leek where the RRV was removed last year.”
The size of the Staffordshire Moorlands and challenging winter weather conditions in the district have added to town councillors’ concerns about the loss of 4×4 vehicles and the time it will take for ambulance services to reach medical emergencies in the area.
Councillor Ron Locker said: “We are talking about the biggest land mass in Staffordshire. The very thing people fought hard for was 4×4 vehicles to be there when required – particularly with the weather we get in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
“All the villages that are isolated in normal conditions are going to be more isolated – it’s going to create deaths.
“I demand the ambulance chief executive is brought to this town council. People have paid their dues by paying council tax and every year our services are being cut. We have to do something and we have to do something now.”
Councillor Elizabeth Whitehouse spoke of organising a public meeting for residents concerned about the proposal.
Councillor Katie Martin said: “The more people we can get the better chance we have got of keeping the service. I shared a post on social media and that has been shared lots of times. People didn’t know this service was going.”
WMAS Emergency Services Operations Delivery Director Nathan Hudson said: “In 2017, NHS England introduced new ways of working which had been developed by leading clinicians that focused on the clinical outcome for the patient rather than just simply trying to stop the clock as soon as possible. It means that patients get the care they need rather than just a fast response with someone who may not be able to provide the appropriate care.
“The overwhelming requirement is to provide the patient with the care they need first time rather than an initial response and then wait for the correct one, which could lead to a delay in treatment. West Midlands Ambulance Service has therefore changed the make-up of its fleet so that almost all vehicles are now ambulances rather than cars.
“In addition, we are the only ambulance service with a paramedic on every ambulance. In practical terms this means the crew can do whatever is required: assess the patient, provide treatment and discharge them or take them to a place where they can get additional care, be that a hospital or another treatment centre.
“For example, previously a rapid response paramedic would have been sent to a suspected stroke patient and stopped the clock. However, what the patient needs is to be taken to hyperacute stroke centre for definitive treatment.
“The car is not able to transport the patient and had to wait for an ambulance to back it up. What the data clearly shows is that by sending an ambulance only, although the initial response may be slightly slower, the patient gets to hospital much more quickly which result in better patient care. The data is clear that patients receive better outcomes by increasing the number of ambulances and reducing cars, even in rural areas.
“Making this change has also improved our efficiency which also means that we are able to respond more quickly to patients. If we take the example above, previously we would have sent two vehicle with three staff. Now we are sending one vehicle with two staff. This change has actually allowed us to reach more patients, more quickly than ever before.
“There is also a misconception that because the ambulance will start and finish its shift at Stoke that is where it will have to come from in the case of an emergency in, for example, Cheadle. The reality is that ambulances are rarely at the Hub, except at the start and end of their shift and during the crew’s meal break. The rest of the time, they are out and about in the community responding to incidents.
“With only around half of patients being taken to hospital, around half of our fleet is in the community, available to respond to calls in the local area. The closest available ambulance will always be sent.
“In addition, our standby points are now seldom used because we are simply too busy. It therefore makes no financial sense to keep them open; surely it is better to use that money to invest in more ambulance crews and vehicles which actually save lives rather than a building which does not.
“The changes we have introduced are based on detailed research and modelling and in other areas where this change has been made has undoubtedly led to better patient care. Whilst we will definitely monitor the situation closely, we are confident that we will see the same positive results in Cheadle as we have in other areas.”