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Call for consultation on Alderney’s future ambulance service

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THE former chief officer of Alderney Ambulance is calling for a public consultation on how a new service should look.

Former Alderney Ambulance chief officer Mel Walden. (Picture by David Nash)

Mel Walden, who was sacked in November after a critical review of the 70-year-old volunteer service, said it was crucial that the public who will pay and be served by the chosen model, be given a say on which one they want before States members vote on the matter next month.

She accused the civil service of attempting to push through an inadequately researched States-run model instead of considering whether the previous service, with its team of qualified and experienced volunteers, was really as ‘broken’ as a review on it suggested.

Mrs Walden, who volunteered with Alderney Ambulance Service for 28 years, said: ‘It’s vital that the public are given all the facts on these suggestions for their ambulance service, including risks and estimated costs of each, and are allowed a say on which one they prefer. It’s their money and their lives that we’re talking about, after all.

Mrs Walden questioned why the fire brigade was not part of the stakeholder group. It could provide valuable insights on benefits and shortcomings of a joint emergency force, she said, She also queried whether the possibility of an ‘integrated health service’ meant a private GP practice running a publicly funded ambulance service.

‘This issue is too important to be rushed through as a single agenda item at a committee meeting that is closed to the public. There are lots of questions that need to be asked and answered.

‘For example, if essentially we have first-aiders on ambulances, are doctors going to be on-board most call-outs, as I believe they are now? It’s going to be more expensive, so who meets that cost?

‘If people are being taken straight to hospital, do they have to pay for a hospital stay on top of the ambulance subscription? How would a major incident be run where responders have joint roles? If the overall plan – and this is something we need to know – is to eventually have a single integrated healthcare centre with a private practice at the heart of it, what happens if it goes bust or is sold on?’

Mrs Walden claimed the methods and findings of the review into AAS, which had led to being dismantled were still largely unknown. She would like to see the review independently scrutinised and have the chance to ‘clear her name’.

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‘I feel I was a scapegoat,’ she said. ‘The public have seen statements saying that the former service was unsafe. Until there is a bit of transparency and honesty from that side people will think, “oh well I’ll go with the safe service” - but they don’t know what safe is. I can show evidence disclaiming 95%t of what the reviewer said that was put in the public domain. But what paperwork did he see to draw the conclusions that he did? And why is he part of the stakeholder group? Was that service really broken? Do we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater?’

Mrs Walden has put together a rescue plan with consultant anaesthetist, emergency medicine specialist and former AAS medical lead Dr Aaron Pennell, which would harness the skills and experience of Alderney Ambulance’s volunteers and fit the mould of the non-States run option.

‘I would like the public to have all the information and to be able to choose what is best for them.’

States member Alex Snowdon has backed her consultation call.

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‘We need to slow this process down and makes sure we have all the facts before any decision is made. This is a vital service and one which will likely cost quite a lot of money and it is essential that we get it right.’

A team led by Professor Philip Wilson, director of the Centre for Rural Health at Aberdeen University, is carrying out a review to determine what sort of GP model the island needs and wants.

James Dent, chairman of Policy and Finance, declined to answer any questions on the decision-making process for an ambulance service. He would not say whether any public consultation would take place or respond to any of Mrs Walden’s questions. He said: ‘I really do not wish to comment. Professor Wilson will be looking at the unanswered questions in regard to primary health care and it would be wrong for me to pre-empt his work.’

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