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Monday, 24 November 2014

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Cumbrian villagers safeguard their 999 service

The people of Alston Moor area are celebrating after saving the town’s emergency ambulance.

Alston Moor ambulance photo
Alston Moor ambulance

More than 400 residents turned out to a meeting with ambulance bosses following a high profile campaign.

Because the area is so remote, and response times much higher than national expectations, it has been served for decades by a locally-based ambulance vehicle run by agency workers from the town.

But the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) decided to withdraw this service, claiming it did not meet strict safety standards – prompting the community to unite in protest.

Parish council chairwoman Alix Martin said people braved snowy conditions to attend Friday’s meeting, thinking they were in for a fight. But to their surprise, ambulance bosses announced a complete U-turn.

Health chiefs will now provide a new ambulance vehicle and train about 12 people from the community to technician level to run it. They will be able to respond the emergencies, treat patients of all ages and transport them to hospital.

On top of that, NWAS is donating two heart-starting defibrilator machines to the community, which has been raising funds to buy some.

Ms Martin said: “People are saying it was the biggest turnout Alston has ever had. They were all coming for a fight, so they were stunned. The news took a while to sink in. What a fantastic result.”

The community is now looking for people to come forward to run the ambulance, as well as providing behind the scenes support. She now hopes other authorities will work with the people of Alston to find solutions to its rural challenges.

Adrian Rush, a resident at the meeting, agreed that Alston needs “one-off” solutions when it comes to local services.

He added: “The threat to remove our ambulance galvanised the community to fight back, just as they did a few years ago when the cottage hospital was threatened with closure. Finding 12 suitable volunteers to be trained as medical technicians from a small community will be a challenge but one that the people of Alston Moor will meet.”

The new fully kitted out ambulance will be provided by NHS Cumbria’s Clinical Commissioning Group.

The decision follows close work with Alston hospital’s League of Friends.

Salman Desai, head of service development at NWAS said they were looking for a solution that would address the very unique needs of Alston.

“To be able to provide a service that goes beyond the expectations of the local community is great news for all involved, tribute must be made to all those involved in addressing a situation that clearly needed to be resolved,” he said.

Rachel Preston, the lead GP for Eden, added: “The public meeting in Alston showed how passionate the local community is about this service and we look forward to their commitment in providing the volunteers needed to run it.”

Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart, said: “They should be hugely proud of the efforts they have gone to.”

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