More than 2,000 patients a day will receive emergency care following a 999 call to the new single ambulance service serving the entire south-west of England. The enlarged South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) comes into existence today (Friday 1 February) following its acquisition of neighbouring Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS).
In addition to Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the area covered by SWASFT now includes Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and the former Avon.
Ken Wenman, Chief Executive of SWASFT, said: “We believe the enlarged organisation has the opportunity to provide the best care available in the country to patients and we are committed to delivering benefits to the public and patients across the South West.
“With a larger workforce, we have greater resilience and flexibility to meet the challenges in healthcare in the months and years ahead. Also, we are better able to invest in cutting-edge treatment and research, and to continue to train our staff to better care for patients in the out-of-hospital environment. With an annual turnover of £210million, we can benefit from greater economies of scale to obtain better value in buying medical equipment and emergency vehicles.
“However, being bigger on its own won’t make us better. SWASFT was the first ambulance trust to become an NHS foundation trust in March 2011 and we continue to be one of the highest performing trusts in the country. GWAS has also been delivering matching levels of performance over the last year. We are therefore bringing together two strong organisations and that is what will make the new trust even better.”
The acquisition was given final approval by the Secretary of State for Health last month following a 14-month process that saw the proposals subject to rigorous scrutiny by a range of external bodies as well as the trusts’ boards. The plans were also widely shared with the public and patient groups across the region to actively gain their views.
The enlarged SWASFT covers almost 10,000 square miles, serves a resident population of over 5.3 million people (with an estimated annual influx of more than 17.5 million tourists) and employs around 4,000 people.
In 2011-12, the two ambulance services responded to more than 690,000 emergency calls to the 999 service – an average of 1,892 every day. Year-on-year increases in calls, plus some for multiple patients mean the enlarged SWASFT will be helping more than 2,000 patients each day.
Ken Wenman added: “Throughout the engagement process, people were concerned that our size would mean we lose sight of local needs – I fully understand those concerns, so can reassure people that in the enlarged trust we will maintain the benefits of local leadership, keeping that direct link with local communities.
“As a foundation trust with a Council of Governors and public members from across the region, we will work directly with those communities to ensure we are responding to patient needs in the most appropriate way.”
As the new organisation begins work, Mr Wenman also paid tribute to the 4,000 staff: “I know how unsettling the last 14 months have been – but wherever I have met staff across the region, they have been committed and professional, meaning that high performance and excellent patient care have continued alongside the vast amount of work to bring the two organisations together.
“On behalf of the Board and patients, I would like to thank and acknowledge that fantastic effort. From today, being a single organisation is going to be exciting and undoubtedly will have its challenges – but I believe it will be highly rewarding for staff and patients.”