Thursday, 26 January 2012

Fire Brigade: Hands off our service

In the news today were a number of articles regarding the London Fire Brigades audacious bid to take over control of the London Ambulance Service. Their main argument this time is the value of property that the LAS owns and how merging ambulance stations with fire stations would save the £50 million. As the spending of public sector money is at the forefront of the news and political debate it is of no surprise that their proposal has turned all the heads the LFB intended. With apparent backing from the London Assembly and various areas of the Tory government it is perhaps a sign that the latest effort of the LFB to gain control of the LAS may this time be more fruitful. But let's not be fooled. The 'shared station facilities' and 'joint working' are just political jargon for 'land grab' and 'LFB takeover' and if it wasn't for £80 million valuation of LAS property there wouldn't be a peep about it. I'm watching keenly to see who this many effect other services around the country too.

This isn't the first time the LFB have tried to get their hands on the LAS. In recent years they have made moves to try responding to Cat A calls stating their response times are much better so could be on scene quicker. Admittedly, the amount of time LFB spend sitting on station playing pool, basketball, table tennis and hero makes it easier to respond quickly. They don't deal with anything like the call rate the LAS deals with, in fact they only receive 15% of the calls that we do in a 12 month period. Compared to the 1.5 million calls that come through our control room the LFB receive less than 230,000, they mobilise on only 60% of those (138,385) and of those calls only 21% (29,215) were fires. Of the calls the LAS received in 2010/11 1.1 million were activated on an of these 347,675 were deemed immediately life threatening. Until the LFB can show they would cope under such high demand with a much smaller budget maybe they should concentrate on their own budget and their cost to the tax payer.

The power struggle they are seeking smacks of desperation. Desperation to justify their existence and the extensive budget the receive. Maybe it's a convuluted way of staving off the threat of privatisation. Who knows?! Each year they receive roughly £437 million from the government compared to £288 million that the LAS receive. Taken into account call volume it seems a vastly generous and unnecessary figure. Why do they need so much? With less staff and less work load why is there such disparity in the budgets? Maybe they should look at ways to cut their costs rather than ways to cut ours. They cost the London tax payer £60 a head for the service they provide compared to the £30 it cost per head for the ambulance service. In the reports today about how much they could save the tax payer, nothing is mentioned about their recent financial indiscretions. No mention of the £500 million of wasted tax payer money last year with wasted unused vehicles, ill conceived new control rooms and coffee machines! For the full report see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14974552. Brian Coleman, chairman of the LFB admitted to a government committee that they had spent £25,000 on a coffee machine at one of their London centres. How frugal of them!

Another point which should be made is that throughout all their latest takeover efforts, there hasn't been a mention of patient care. Just money. At the end of the day, the ambulance service is there to provide care to the people that needed. The LAS is the largest 'free at point of contact' ambulance service in the world. Like every NHS and organisation it has its faults but on the whole an excellent service is provided to our patients. Yes, savings need to be made and yes, there is always room for improvement but those savings and the improvement needed does not come in the form of the Fire Brigade. The arrogance from 'Pet Rescue' that they could swoop in and save Londoners millions is not only unrealistic but would be a huge risk to our patients. Whats next? Will they want to take control of the police, coast guard and RNLI? They could be an all singing all dancing ultimate emergency service with a huge budget to boot! The could be called the 'London Fire Fighting, Crime Stopping, Life Saving Service'. Maybe then and only then would they be happy. 

What I hope is that the LAS continues to rebuff any attempt by the LFB to gain control. The Cheif Exec Peter Bradley has always been outspoken on the issue and today released the following comments:

“While we are happy to discuss opportunities for greater collaboration between emergency services, we believe it is vital that the London Ambulance Service remains part of the NHS."


“We are an integral part of the health service in the capital, delivering world class care to Londoners, day in day out. Our track record shows we are managing increasing numbers of calls while improving our response to the most seriously ill and injured patients."
“The suggestion that savings of £500m could be made by merging stations is completely unrealistic. We respond to around 1.1m incidents a year with a budget of just £288m - providing excellent value for money."
“Our award winning emergency control room is the busiest in the world. We take nearly 1.5m calls a year – more than all 46 English fires services put together. And it costs Londoners just £30 a head for our service compared to £60 per head for the fire service."
“We do want to work more closely with our emergency partners. Where it is operationally practical, we will look at sharing facilities and at joint purchasing arrangements. We are in the process of organising a meeting at a senior level with the Metropolitan Police Service and the London Fire Brigade to improve collaboration between services.

“However, our job is to deliver clinical care to Londoners and, as the London Assembly review concludes, we can do this most effectively if we remain integrated within the health service.”

Well said! The LAS doesn't need help, it has made significant cuts in it's budget quicker than expected and way over and above that of the fire brigade, and the sooner they leave the LAS alone and get their own house in order the sooner they may start to chip away at their exorbitant overspending. 

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