Public Law And Human Rights Experts Representing Community Campaign Group Member
A campaigner has instructed specialist lawyers to investigate a decision to potentially downgrade emergency response and ambulance services in the remote Alston Moor area of Cumbria.
Since 2016, Alston Moor has had a single ambulance service operated by local volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and supported by community first responders (CFRs). It is understood that the ambulance is unable to leave Alston Moor and should a patient require hospital admission, an ambulance from elsewhere is required which can result in a one to three hour wait for transport.
In recent weeks, there has been increasing concern over suggestions the service, which is commissioned by NHS Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and operated by North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), is to undergo changes with a reduction in service.
In addition, reports in the media have indicated an intention for the area to pilot an Enhanced Community First Responders course. However, the details and impact of such a proposal remain unclear and do not appear to have been published or consulted upon.
There has also been an indication that the ambulance vehicle currently in operation is to be sold or relocated, but again it is unclear whether this will go ahead.
Alix Martin, 65, of Alston, is a member of the Save Alston Moor Services Group. She is clinically vulnerable as she suffers from a heart condition and has benefitted from Alston’s EMT-led ambulance service on two occasions.
She has now instructed public law and human rights experts at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the lawfulness of the current operating arrangements and proposed plans, which she believes will leave her and many other people in Alston at a “heightened risk.”
The legal team has written to the CCG for urgent clarification or they may face a possible judicial review.
Expert Opinion“People living in rural communities also have a legal right to ambulance services. Alix is a committed and active member of the strong local community in Alston. She is one of many residents that are deeply concerned over recent reports that the ambulance service is to undergo changes.
While the details remain unclear, with no consultations having taken place, at face value the plans are of serious cause for concern. The principle concern is that these skeleton proposals appear to downgrade this vital healthcare provision for people living and visiting one of the most remote communities in the country.
Currently, patients in an emergency situation who require hospital admission may have to wait up to three hours in poor weather for an ambulance from Penrith or Carlisle. The residents of Alston Moor therefore do not have the benefit of a blue-light paramedic service within acceptable response times and already feel they are already under-resourced.
While CFRs are a valuable resource, Alix and the campaign group do not envisage that a local service led solely by CFRs will provide the level of provision or medical expertise that is required in serious emergencies. It also appears likely that the plans will impact vulnerable people the most.
We have now written to the CCG asking them to provide urgent clarity on their plans. As a resident of Cumbria I understand the challenges that rural communities in this area face and how vital it is that this health provision is safeguarded.”
Alexander Terry - Solicitor
Alix said: “The emergency response service in Alston Moor is already at a reduced level compared to other areas, and if the proposed changes go ahead, it will become much worse for everyone.
“As a community, we feel we’re nearing a point of crisis now and steps are now needed to protect our EMT-led provision or commission a full blue-light paramedic service for the area, as most areas of the country benefit from.
“As a campaign group, we feel the community should be provided with an enhanced and safe emergency response service rather than facing cuts. With my heart condition, it’s a service I’ve had to use twice in the past and I dread to think how differently things could have turned out if it hadn’t been available to me. I believe cuts to the service will leave many of us at a heightened risk of serious harm or avoidable death.
“Heading into the winter months will also undoubtedly increase the number of people requiring emergency services, so we feel it’s important that we’re consulted on all proposed changes and the potential impact on the community.”
Alston Moor is a thriving rural community of around 3300 people in Cumbria, situated in the Northern Pennines at over 1000 feet. As a UNESCO Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Alston Moor attracts significant numbers of tourists and motoring enthusiasts. The A686 connecting Alston with Penrith via Hartside is considered one of the best driving roads in the country but is also an accident blackspot. In the winter, it is common for the roads to become impassable, cutting the community off from major towns and cities.