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Monday, 01 September 2014

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Night-time ambulance service cuts in north Cumbria on hold after public backlash

Ten thousand objectors have forced a rethink on controversial cuts to emergency life-saving cover in north Cumbria.

Ambulance photo

The North West Ambulance Service is putting plans to cut the number of night-time ambulances in Carlisle from three to two on hold in the face of massive public pressure.

It is also reinstating a rapid response vehicle (RRV) in Penrith just days after taking it off the road for part of the night to save money.

Ambulance chiefs have faced heavy criticism since the proposed cuts emerged last month.

The campaign also secured a pledge from Carlisle MP John Stevenson to present the 10,000-name, anti-cuts petition in Parliament and raise concerns at the highest level.

Opponents fear lives will be put at risk if the cuts are allowed to go ahead, amid claims that north Cumbria already lacks ambulance cover. They today said they were delighted to have secured a reprieve – but warned their campaign was far from over.

Mike Oliver, a paramedic and convener for health union Unison, has been told by NWAS bosses that they were putting the brakes on the proposals after seeing the scale of concerns.

He told the News & Star: “They are going to put on hold the proposed reduction of the night-time Carlisle vehicle until they’ve engaged properly with the GP-led clinical commissioning groups.

“They are also going to reinstate the RRV in Penrith from this week.”

The reprieve has emerged just days after a heated public meeting at which ambulance chiefs heard for themselves the strength of feeling on the issue.

Carlisle City councillor Lee Sherriff – Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate – was among those at the meeting.

She said people were angry at the proposals and welcomed the developments that have unfolded since.

“We are not there yet. We will be continuing to collect the signatures. People power appears to have worked here,” she said.

Conservative Mr Stevenson said that Carlisle had an unusual geographical position with the city a considerable distance from any other major conurbations.

After meeting with ambulance crews, he said: “Staff have indicated that although every shift varies, there are a number of situations that occur frequently that require this night ambulance to stay.

“These include night transfer of patients to Newcastle, covering a different area of Cumbria when the ambulance in that area has already been deployed and often, simply, the sheer volume of callouts from the Carlisle area.”

Support for the campaign has also come from Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart, Workington’s Sir Tony Cunningham and Jamie Reed in Copeland.

NWAS has yet to confirm that it has put the north Cumbria proposals on hold.

Speaking after Thursday’s meeting in Carlisle, Derek Cartwright, NWAS’ director of operations, said that as a public body it was important to listen to the concerns of the communities.

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