‘Patients’ lives at risk’ - ambulance stations to close

An artist's impression of the new joint fire and ambulance station in Wigan

An artist's impression of the new joint fire and ambulance station in Wigan

All of Wigan’s ambulance stations will close when a new combined emergency services hub opens, it has been confirmed.

The remaining four open bases, in Atherton, Billinge, Hindley and Wigan, will be closed and North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) services moved to a £3.9m state-of-the-art hub when it opens at the site of the current Wigan fire station in summer 2017.

We feel that emergency cover will be depleted and patients’ lives put at risk when stations are closed down

Mike Buoey

But GMB, a union which represents some ambulance employees, has raised concerns that the plan will put patients lives at risk and said it has not been fully consulted about the closure of bases in the borough.

Mike Buoey, a GMB organiser for the North West, said: “The GMB is deeply concerned in that while we were told about a joint fire and ambulance station development in Wigan, we have not been fully consulted with on the closure of other ambulance stations.

“We feel that emergency cover will be depleted and patients’ lives put at risk when stations are closed down.

“We will be consulting with our members over the closures as we understand that staff will be based at the ‘super’ station but will then need to drive out in the ambulance to set deployment points. This may well increase the travelling time for an ambulance or response car to reach a patient with a life-threatening or time critical condition.

“We would ask that NWAS produce the current performance data and what it is showing for the areas of the proposed station closures.”

But NWAS has said that residents will not notice a difference in service as crews are normally so busy, they rarely return to base and calls are relayed to the nearest ambulance regardless of where it is based.

An NWAS spokesman said: “The closure of stations should have no impact on our ability to continue to serve those communities outside of Wigan town centre.

“In the main, ambulances respond to incidents from the road and are not ring-fenced to serve their base station’s immediate vicinity.

“Due to the high volume of incidents we respond to, staff rarely go back to station after taking a patient to hospital. This leaves properties empty for the majority of the time and we cannot justify spending public money to maintain and facilitate empty buildings. It is our intention to invest the money saved in frontline services.”

Another union which represents NWAS staff said its members were generally supportive of the plan but they would be monitoring the response times to make sure the service to the public is maintained.

Jeff Gorman, UNISON NWAS Branch Secretary said: “There are concerns that there may need to be a review of existing rota patterns which could cause disruption to the lives of our members. We will continue to work to protect our members through this time of change.

“The ambulance and fire service managers have expressed a commitment to ensure that response times and the service to the public will not be worsened by the introduction of the new hub. We will continue to be vigilant to make sure that this remains the case.”

NWAS confirmed there would be no job losses and will meet the unions today.