Ambulance merger off

OPPONENTS of an ambulance service merger are celebrating the decision to scrap it because of strong local protests.

The Middy learned on Tuesday that Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, Hazel Blears, has decided the merger of trusts across the South East will be abandoned.

One of them was a proposed merger of the Sussex service with that of Kent.

Among its opponents were Wivelsfield Parish Council and the Princess Royal Hospital Action Group.

Leader of the action group Anne Jones, from Burgess Hill, said, "It s wonderful news. We went to see the Sussex Ambulance Trust headquarters and were hugely impressed with the way they coped with a heavy workload. There is some sense in the saying 'if it ain t broke don t fix it ."

Chairman of Wivelsfield Parish Council, Martyn Long, spearheaded the merger several years ago of the East and West Sussex ambulance services, but he and his council opposed the Sussex-Kent merger strongly.

Mr Long said: "I m thrilled. I don t think they should consider anything else until they have the technology for communications across all the services. Otherwise they have just got to be separate services."

As a result of the decision, strategic health authorities and primary care trusts will have until September to recommend how their ambulance services should be run.

Sussex Ambulance Trust director of operations, Trevor Anderson, said collaboration with Kent and other services on common interests such as buying vehicles would continue. He said the proposal issued six months ago has been overtaken by changes in Government policy and added: "I wouldn t say I am disappointed. I am not surprised. Six months is a long time in the health service and things have changed."

In announcing her decision Hazel Blears said: "We have taken on board the views of local people and the planned changes to ambulance services in the South East will not go ahead. This was a real consultation exercise. Plans have been changed as a result of the views of local people."