Craig Williams MP and I wrote to Stephen Harrhy, the Chief Ambulance Services Commissioner for Wales, in mid October with our clear views on the future of the Wales Air Ambulance base at Welshpool. We have included this letter in full below to help inform your own response to the consultation - which ends on November 12th. We urge everyone, even those who took part in phase one, to join us in putting your views in this last opportunity before a decision on the base's long term future is made in December.
Post: ‘EMRTS Feedback’, EASC/NCCU, Unit 1, Charnwood Court, Heol Billingsley, Nantgarw, CF15 7QZ
Online Query Form: https://easc.nhs.wales/engagement/sdp/
Phone answer line: 01443 471520
24 October 2023
EMRTS Service Review – Consultation Response
As the final phase of the engagement process on the future of Wales’ Air Ambulance service is ongoing, we wanted to write to you formally to present our view at this stage – ahead of your recommendations being presented to the Emergency Ambulance Services Committee, and the final decision being made.
We wanted to write to you about important considerations which we think should carry significant weight, and why we believe strongly that the Welshpool Air Ambulance base should be retained to avoid a downgrade in service in Mid Wales.
- From the start of this process, our main concern has been that closing Welshpool and Caernarfon’s bases would lead to a poorer service for Mid Wales. We believe this has now been demonstrated by modelling data from Optima. Their work has clearly found that merging bases into one North East Wales site would lead to slower overall response times to attending incidents in Mid Wales. Given that past commitments have been made that any change would not lead to a poorer service to cover Mid Wales, we do not support any option that would lead to a slower overall response time for the air ambulance service to attend incidents in mid Wales.
- The modelling shows that the benefit of closing Welshpool & Caernarfon’s bases and opening one new site in North West Wales would lead to just three additional missions per year. This is very clearly within a margin of error. In the plans that were originally leaked, we were informed an extra 583 missions per year across the whole of Wales would be achieved - a claim that has now been discredited. Optima themselves have stated that they consider retaining both bases (Welshpool & Caernarfon) as a good option.
- At the start of this final consultation phase, it was stated that any impact from the changes would be “tiny”. As this is the case, we would question the need for existing bases to close which would lead to continued local concern.
- If only one base is operated to cover the Mid and North Wales areas, adverse weather could mean all air ambulances located at this one base are grounded. Currently, separate bases give added protection if one base is hit by bad weather or other events. This would have significant implications for large areas of Mid and North Wales. In these circumstances, cover would only be provided by a road vehicle or from air ambulances situated in South Wales adding considerable time to attending incidents. We firmly believe that closing two bases, and operating from only one base, represents ‘placing all eggs in one basket’ for Mid and North Wales which is unacceptable.
- It has previously been stated that the need for change is about patient outcomes, not economics. During the final consultation, it now appears that economics is a factor in the final recommendation. We also have concerns that closing Welshpool and Caernarfon’s bases will also impact the charity’s ability to fundraise. While not a direct consideration of the engagement process, clearly the funding model for Air Ambulance services means that poorer coverage in the long term is possible if the charity cannot fundraise as effectively. We believe that there should be no re-configuration of air ambulance bases that would lead to a poorer service than is currently delivered to vast areas of Wales. Economic considerations should not drive this process - the Welsh NHS and Welsh Government should prioritise spending to deliver the best services for each area.
- The questionnaire completed in the initial consultation may not have captured all relevant views. For example, it asked people whether all of Wales should have an equal service, which is likely to be answered positively. This should not be used as a case for the reconfiguration of existing bases. We would urge you to consider that an equal service across Wales does not mean the same service delivered in every place. Many rural areas like ours do not have a local district general hospital, or reasonable access to A&E facilities, which strengthens the case for a locally based Air Ambulance service.
It is clear to us that closing Welshpool and Caernarfon’s bases in favour of a single North Wales base would have a significant detrimental effect on the ability of the Wales Air Ambulance service to operate as effectively as it does now to large areas of Mid Wales. Retaining Welshpool and Caernarfon’s bases is the best option for a reliable air ambulance service to serve the people across Mid and North Wales.
Russell George MS & Craig Williams MP