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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Alston: Health groups lead public consultation

IT could be a race against time to save Alston’s ambulance as plans for its future are put up for debate.

The agency ambulance which covers Alston Moor has been under threat since proposals to close the service were put forward in 2011.

North West Ambulance Service owns and funds the non-emergency ambulance – staffed by members of the local community trained in basic life support – but is looking for an alternative.

The League of Friends of the Community Hospital, from Alston – which is trying to negotiate a solution with the ambulance service and the NHS Cumbrian Commissioning Group – has proposed an ambulance service for the area run by a community group and staffed by local volunteers.

However, since being announced last year the proposals have hit a brick wall.

At a recent parish council meeting, the Friends put forward the idea, which would see volunteers train as community first responders, as well as other proposals.

However councillors remained unconvinced of the viability and safety of residents relying on volunteer first responders.

League of Friends member Malcolm Forster said the main problem lay with the limitations to what first responders could do.

“They can’t assist children under 12, someone with mental health issues or serious trauma,” he explained. “We are concerned because of the length of time it takes an emergency ambulance to get here because we can’t move someone to safety.

“If an elderly person falls on Front Street, what are we meant to do? Leave them there? The problem in Alston is particularly exacerbated because it is the most geographically isolated community of its size in mainland England.

“We hope the North West Ambulance Service will realise these problems exist and help work towards a suitable solution for everybody.”

Mr Forster said he hoped that community first responders could remain as part of the solution to keep an emergency service in Alston Moor when the emergency ambulance was withdrawn.

Other solutions put forward by the Friends include recruiting local medical professionals as voluntary responders and sourcing a vehicle which would help transport patients to the nearest ambulance or emergency service.

A public consultation on the proposals with the League of Friends, the North West Ambulance Service and the NHS Cumbrian Commissioning Group is planned for January.

The agency ambulance has been run from Moredun Garage in Alston by a contracted crew for 45 years. It responds to emergency calls in Alston Moor, helping patients within the community until ambulance service staff can attend.

Current recruits are not trained to transport patients with medical emergencies so it cannot transport patients to hospital.

An ambulance service spokesman said the ambulance did not meet Care Quality Commission regulations and confirmed the operation was under review.

“North West Ambulance Service is not pulling out of providing a service – we already provide the emergency ambulance service for the North-West,” he said. “We are seeking a more safe and sustainable alternative to complement the emergency service North West Ambulance Service already provides.”