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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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Cost-cutting ambulance service has £34m in bank, claims union

A union has accused ambulance chiefs of hoarding millions of pounds as they plan to cut overnight cover in parts of Cumbria by a third.

Ambulance photo

Unison has warned that plans to reduce the number of ambulances on duty overnight from three to two – part of a bid to shrink spending in Cumbria and Lancashire by £600,000 – could drive down response times.

Managers at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) say the change was decided on only after a detailed analysis of usage and would not impact on patient care.

But the GMB union has questioned why the region’s ambulance service has £34 million in the bank.

Ray Carrick, the union’s regional officer, said that the service in the North West had been exceeding Government set savings targets over the last two years.

He said they reported having savings of £34m on March 31 last year.

Mr Carrick claimed that NWAS plans to save a further £13.8m this year would affect frontline services.

Mr Carrick added: “Although GMB was assured in earlier months that any downsizing or cost implementation would not affect ‘front of house’ or patient-facing services, this is proving not to be the case.

“It appears all sections of NWAS are to face cutbacks irrespective of whether it impacts on patient services or not.

“If services are cut because we have to balance the budget, why are NWAS cutting services to the patient with a £34m under spend sitting in its bank?”

Alan Stuttard, deputy chief executive and director of finance at NWAS, said: “In an increasingly challenging financial environment, like any organisation, we do need to look at how efficiencies can be made.”

He said all NHS trusts have to make savings and NWAS needs to save £13.8m in this financial year.

He added: “The £34m is not under-spend but monies set aside at the end of the financial year for costs and possible liabilities – for example, the tax, national insurance and pensions contributions based on March salaries, the need to invest money to improve systems which could save money in the longer term, any possible claims made against the trust or to pay outstanding bills received in March.”

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