Staff ‘devastated’ at loss of 90 ambulance jobs

AROUND 90 jobs will be lost in Leamington with the axing of an ambulance control centre.

The patient transport service control room within Leamington Fire Station will be closed and its work moved to Staffordshire.

The move by West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) will also see the loss of the out-of-hours GP service jobs to the trust’s emergency operations centre in Tollgate.

A control room worker told the Courier that staff were “devastated” over the shock news and expected the move to start next month.

And the staff member feared many would not be able to do the more than 150-miles round trip to Staffordshire.

The worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The 90 or so staff in Leamington are devastated and the vast majority will be unable to relocate.”

The move follows the closure of the ambulance service’s 999 control room which was housed in the fire station up until 2010.

The worker said that following that the patient transport service was to move to Birmingham but, after talks with employees, WMAS decided to move the Birmingham staff to Leamington.

He said: “It was then that we moved from Portland Street to the vacant offices of the 999 control room at the fire station

“With such a costly move we felt our jobs were safe.”

And the worker criticised the lack of talks with WMAS since staff were told about it earlier this month.

Unison, the public service union, said assurances about job security following the closure of the 999 control room had proved “worthless.”

A WMAS spokesman said the closure of the control centre had been prompted by long-term plans to close Leamington Fire Station, which could see it relocate to an edge-of-town site, and redeveloped for retail.

Several bidders for the site, including Waitrose, are still believed to be interested.

He added: “The trust has recently been approached by the fire and rescue service with a view to ending the lease agreement with the ambulance service.

“All WMAS staff working in Leamington have received a briefing in regards to the proposed move and each person will have a one-to-one discussion with a trust manager and representative from human resources, providing them with the opportunity to give their views and discuss the options available to them.

“It is important to note that a range of options are being made available to staff including the opportunity for patient carer training within the patient transport service.

“WMAS has invested heavily in new technology at its sites in Brierley Hill and Tollgate in Staffordshire over recent years. The technology on these two sites are linked and form a ‘virtual’ operations centre; meaning the trust has greater resilience and a greater capability of dealing with sudden increases in demand.”

WMAS has not said whether the closure will have any affect on the future of Warwick Ambulance Station in Montague Road.

*UNISON said it opposed the original plans for big regional control centres at the expense of local control centres in the ambulance service.

Regional organiser Ray Salmon said: “When we lost the Leamington 999 control centre we were assured at the time that everything would be okay as regards the jobs that were left there. They gave all sorts of assurances.

“They are going to lose experienced staff – it’s all right saying they’ve got all this new technology at Brierley Hill and Tollgate, but it’s local knowledge that counts as well.

“They are experienced and loyal staff and now they’ve got to move out. Even if they want to travel to Tollgate, you can’t sustain that level of travel to work all day and then travel home.

“The ambulance service is going to lose experienced staff which they rely on. They are specialist and when the labour market picks up I am sure they will lose a lot of them.”

Mr Salmon also criticised WMAS for moving into a building without securing a lengthy lease, adding: “We thought they would have done a bit of long-term planning.”

*THE loss of the Leamington jobs is part of a chequered history of ambulance service reorganisation in the area.

While Warwickshire retained its own service, in the mid-1970s Coventry became part of the new West Midlands Metropolitan Ambulance Service following a major reorganisation of local government and the creation of metropolitan counties.

However, the city was pulled out of that in 2004 to form the Coventry and Warwickshire Ambulance Service.

But that was short-lived and in 2006 the Coventry and Warwickshire Ambulance Service became part of the regional WMAS, formed by the merger of four sub-regional ambulance services.

WMAS has more than 4,000 staff, more than 60 ambulance stations, and around 850 vehicles.

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