Health secretary Jeremy Hunt takes action over Lincolnshire County Council’s ambulance service concerns

Concerns over an ambulance service consultation have provoked interest from the health secretary.
Concerns over an ambulance service consultation have provoked interest from the health secretary.

Concerns over an ‘inadequate’ consultation into plans to improve Lincolnshire’s failing ambulance response times have provoked action from the secretary of state for health.

Lincolnshire County Council first escalated its concerns in April, fearing last minute changes to East Midlands Ambulance Service’s ‘Being the Best’ consultation had not been discussed sufficiently with its health scrutiny committee or the public.

EMAS’s initial consultation between September and December, intended to resolve consistent failures to meet response time targets, had been opposed by the committee, which did not believe closing stations would result in improvements.

The radical changes to the station closure model which followed without further consultation, provoked event greater opposition.

Committee members therefore decided to contact the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has now asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for an initial assessment.

Committee chairman Christine Talbot said: “The committee have had concerns over the performance of EMAS for a long time and this referral was specifically made as we didn’t feel they had carried out inadequate consultation on their ‘Being the Best’ proposals.

“EMAS have been fined for the third year running for failing to meet response times and we have no confidence that closing ambulance stations will improve the situation on Lincolnshire.

“Although it has taken the secretary of state eight weeks to response, I am pleased that the IRP will now be looking into our concerns and are carrying out an initial assessment.”

The announcement has been welcomed by the GMB union, which represents paramedics and had previously issued a vote of no confidence in EMAS’s chief executive over the consultation.

In a BBC Radio Lincolnshire interview on Tuesday, GMB’s regional coordinator Colin Todd said he was delighted with the news.

“GMB has been on record from day one saying that we feel the whole of the consultation has been a sham all the way through and EMAS has had the plan that they’ve come up with now in their back pocket all along,” he said.

Mr Todd shares the county council’s view that station closures will not improve the situation and has called for an investment in frontline staff instead.

EMAS’s chief executive Phil Milligan told the BBC he is ‘not at all anxious’ about the secretary of state’s decision which he says is just a preliminary investigation.

He claims the ‘evidence is strong’ that the proposals will improve services in Lincolnshire and accuses those opposing it of ‘putting their head in the stand’ trying to ignoring the necessary changes.

“I’m absolutely confident we’ve consulted fairly,” he said.

Mr Milligan believes the changes to EMAS’s proposals were the appropriate response to the feedback he received from patients, staff and residents and should be applauded rather than condemned.

In raising the issue with the secretary of state, Mr Milligan fears the county council will delay the necessary improvements, thereby harming the service for Lincolnshire residents.

“It’s causing a delay in Lincolnshire, it’s holding back some of the improvements we know we can make and its the people of Lincolnshire who will suffer because of that,” he said.

Me Milligan has also pointed out that Lincolnshire is currently receiving a better service than it has received over past years, due, in part to the subsidies it receives from other counties.

“Lincolnshire is doing extremely well, it’s getting more investment, but not from Lincolnshire from other county’s subsiding Lincolnshire,” he said,

Without these subsidies, Mr Milligan does not believe Lincolnshire would be able to improve and therefore dismisses Coun Talbot’s calls for Lincolnshire’s service to breakaway from EMAS as being based on a ‘rose tinted’ view of the past.

The IRP is scheduled to submit its initial assessment by June 28.