The Government has been criticised for its plans to cut the number of ambulance fleets from 43 to 11, and to outsource fleet management.
The debate began as Surrey Ambulance Service NHS Trust lost its contract to run ambulances in the county to a private company, GSL UK. Those close to the industry agree that things need to change, but there are concerns that having fewer, larger fleets and outsourced management will put lives at risk.
An industry source, who asked not to be named, said many ambulance fleets across the country were running ageing vehicles with extremely high mileage that cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds to keep on the road.
He said: ‘They are being kept on the road, but it’s costing a fortune. Wouldn’t it be better to just accelerate the replacement programme?’
He also queried whether contractors would be capable of dealing with non-mechanical problems on ambulances, such as issues with medical equipment.
The changes in Surrey are being seen as evidence of the pace of Labour’s health reforms, with private firms increasingly taking on work traditionally provided by the NHS. The trust’s chief executive, Alan Kennedy, said it would provide value for money, but unions are not convinced.
Unison’s head of health, Karen Jennings, said: ‘It is all about saving money and nothing to do with providing high-quality, safe and reliable patient care.’
At a discussion about the amalgamation plans in North Yorkshire, county councillor John Blackie said the authority would oppose the plans because of the risk of rural communities being left in the lurch. He said statistics showed in rural areas the North Yorkshire service had failed to meet national standards for answering emergency calls since a merger seven years ago.
A Department of Health spokesman said the consultation process would begin by the end of the year.