Swanage and Purbeck Ambulance Car – Swanage Town Council vows action

An invaluable service

Swanage Town Councillors vowed at their meeting on Monday 15 March 2021 to do all they could to stop the removal of the Purbeck Paramedic Car.

The service, in operation since 2008, provides 24-7 emergency care to Swanage and Purbeck. The car also supports home visits by Purbeck GPs.

With the closure of the A&E and Maternity Departments at Poole Hospital, the service was all the more valued by residents and visitors alike.

Given, too, the fact that the South West Ambulance Trust is often sorely stretched, the Ambulance Car has literally been a life line for those facing a medical emergency – as Freedom of Information Requests will confirm.

An anxious community

The Purbeck Community has been unsettled for some while by reports that car would be withdrawn – despite avowals to the contrary made by Tim Goodson of the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group.

In February, a resident informed Swanage Town Council that the South West Ambulance trust planned to end the service at the end of the financial year. This was confirmed by in writing by the Chief Executive Officer of the Trust.

The Council, urged to action by Labour Councillors Debby Monkhouse and Avril Harris (who is Deputy Mayor) has met with South Dorset MP Richard Drax to urge him to do all he can to save the car.

Local residents are actively campaigning to save the Car, and feelings are running high that this service must be maintained.

Public Participation time

At the Council Meeting held on Monday 15 March, Public Participation Time gave a sense of the depth of feeling felt by both residents and visitors.

Community leader

Melvyn Norris, Chair of the influential Swanage Area Forum and Purbeck Development Trustee, was among the first to speak.

Melvyn Norris reminded Councillors of the origins of the service: to ensure emergency overnight medical cover to the community following the proposal for overnight closure of Swanage Community Hospital’s Minor Injuries Unit.

The service, Mr Norris pointed out, had since then “morphed into a 24/7 emergency service for anywhere in Dorset”, as well one providing home visits for over stretched GPs.

Mr Norris highlighted the fact that the Swanage Medical Practice and Swanage Community Hospital were facing challenges recruiting and retaining staff. The retention, therefore, of the Car was “of crucial importance” as an additional resource.

Mr Norris ended his plea to Councillors to act by saying that “it (was) not the fault of the Swanage and surrounding villages’ resident that the National Health Service has been fragmented with the various providers competing against each other rather than providing us all with a NHS we have paid for and now need and deserve”.

Former nurse

Thelma Deacon, a former nurse and Swanage resident, told Councillors what she had learned from Freedom of Information Requests.

In 2019, she said, the ambulance car had responded to just under 1,000 call outs to BH19 postcodes alone: Swanage, Langton, Worth and Studland, exclusive of any call outs to Corfe and wider Purbeck.

Over half the call outs in BH19 were to category 1-3 emergencies (classified as being the most severe): with an average of 35 call outs per month where there was risk to life.

Mrs Deacon asked: “could Councillors please advise what urgent action the Town Council is planning to take to safeguard this service?”

A frequent visitor

Chris Bradey, an East Stoke resident, and frequent visitor to Swanage, asked Councillors a similar question: “what actions are the Council taking to preserve this invaluable service, which is such a reassurance for visitor and resident alike?”

Mr Bradey said that Dorset was a beautiful county, blessed with quiet villages, rolling hills and a magnificent World Heritage coastline.

Research on behalf of the Dorset Tourism Partnership, carried out by the South West Research Company, indicated that the county is visited by millions of visitors who make a significant contribution to the local economy.

Swanage was a much loved seaside town, with so much to offer visitors, many of whom returned, year by year. It was a special place, with its own unique charm

In 2019, there were 3.7 million day visits to Purbeck, with a total visitor spend of £235m. Due to the Pandemic and staycations, Swanage would surely be expecting an even bigger influx of visitors this summer.

Mr Bradey said that his concern was “that our visitors can be assured of prompt and professional help if a medical emergency calls for it”.

“We know” he said, “that our excellent ambulance service is sorely stretched – and the ambulance car is such a valuable resource – its call out has resulted in many lives saved”

Councillor Debby Monkhouse: “a crisis is imminent”

Councillor Debby Monkhouse, in putting forward a motion to the Council to show its deep concern over the removal of the Ambulance Car, said:

“Councillors will know that we have had an email from the chair of the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) suggesting that the car is not in imminent danger of withdrawal, however we have also heard from a number of sources that the car IS in imminent danger of withdrawal.

Of the sources that have suggested that the money for the car is running out, we have the public governor of SWAST, who said the money was secure until the end of March (this year).

“We have the same resident who told us a year ago that the car was going, by which time we’d had no engagement from either the CCG or the ambulance trust. When the ambulance trust chief executive was contacted, he confirmed that the car was indeed intended to go at the end of March last year.

Last but not least we’ve had the Purbeck GP lead Dr James Jackson, who emailed me on the 29th February to say that the provision of the Purbeck Car by SWAST and the CCG is due to finish in the near future.

He went on to say that funding will be made available to the Purbeck GP network to provide a replacement service and we had arranged to speak on the phone about the replacement service.

We spoke on the 2nd March, at which point he’d been asked to put a replacement service in place but only to cover for GP home visits and he confirmed that the service would not cover emergency response functions of the paramedic car. So we’re in a difficult position where we’re told it’s not going, but we’re told from a number of reliable sources that at the very least, it’s very insecure and that the crisis is imminent.”

Motion passed unanimously

The motion proposed by Councillor Monkhouse was passes unanimously: it read:

“Swanage Town Council recognises that the retention of the paramedic car is vital for Swanage, and that its removal would be a threat to the lives of local people.

This council resolves to make every effort to prevent the withdrawal of the paramedic car and to urgently contact the MP for South Dorset, Dorset Council’s People and Health Scrutiny Committee, South Western Ambulance Service Trust and Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group to secure its retention.

In order to try to influence the stakeholders involved, this council will also request a meeting with the South Western Ambulance Service Trust and other interested parties to clarify the costs of maintaining this service and the funding options available.”

Chris Bradey