Concept Ambulance on The Move North East Ambulance Service

As part of the new ambulance design programme we were afforded the opportunity to take type 3 and type 4 ambulances to our fellow ambulance crews in the North East of England who are named on the same contract tender as ourselves. The main purpose of the visit was to show them how our Trust had worked closely with the development team and engaged fully with the members of staff throughout the process. The result of partnership working has been reflected by the staff engagement and the level of feedback which was provided by those who had either worked on the concept ambulances or had taken the opportunity to view the vehicles when they were at bases or hospitals. The NEAS is a coastal region which although not as wide as EEAT, is very lengthy from north to south and this can result in very high mileage journeys and also cross border trips into Scotland.

On arrival at NEAS Sunderland Fleet, it was reassuring to note that their facilities were protected by a very high, solid metal fence with access via electronic sliding gates activated by their smart cards. This high level of security also protects the lone workers who might be there late at night or when others are on down time. I was also impressed with the way they created a safe car parking area which included a safe walkway to and from the facility.

NEAS has created a safe place to work in despite a vehicular contraflow being implemented to enable vehicles to remain within the secure compound when being moved around the workshop facility. Exit from the site is via another electronic gate which is similar to WMAS.


Within the NEAS Fleet workshops they operate a “green” walkway system and where there is a need to cross a vehicle route, they have incorporated a zebra crossing system which appears to work well. It was also noted that they place yellow safety bags over the vehicle seats when vehicles are being worked on to prevent unauthorised movement of vehicle systems.

We were able to engage with some of the Fleet support staff and it was interesting to hear their views and feedback with regard to the two concept ambulances. From here we travelled to Sunderland Hospital where we met a couple of crews before heading further afield to Stockton. The level of positivity was encouraging and it was interesting to hear how they viewed the way that our Trust had engaged with our road staff to gain the views of the clinicians who would ultimately be the ones working inside the new ambulances.

Because this was a joint venture, NEAS ambulance crews were keen to view the ambulance interiors, the patient treatment areas, crew cab and equipment. It was rewarding to hear their positive attitude and it was a also a tad warming to hear the compliments that were made with regard to the combined efforts of everyone that has been involved in the concept ambulance development.

WE were able to engage with newly qualified Paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians, Emergency Care Assistants; long term staff and a variety of managerial levels… and the powered self-loading stretcher was the icing on the cake. The simple controls, ease of loading and unloading, which removes the risks of musculoskeletal injuries to members of staff was a major attraction as was the welfare facilities and driving safety camera systems installed in the cab.

The visit also took in Newcastle and the area to the north, but it would be wrong not to include the happiest NEAS employee that I met…. He loved the powered self-loading stretcher. NEAS are also trialling the body worn camera to improve staff safety.

The concept choice of staff is the type 3 offered by WAS but feedback from our staff has shown that they are not happy with a ramp and winch to get the stretcher in and out of the ambulance. With this in mind, the obvious way forward was to incorporate the powered self-loading stretcher from Type 4 and in essence create a Type 3a. This was why we took both vehicles with us; to show the mainstay vehicle and the stretcher that would complement it.

The picture shows the stretcher fixing base with the main unit that carries the stretcher in and out of the vehicle. The extended arms of the lift unit can be flipped up and the unit stowed inside if you wish to close the doors while the stretcher is out of the vehicle. As you may appreciate, by incorporating a central stretcher the development team have had to make adjustments to the patient saloon area in order that the fullest benefits can be obtained from this stretcher.

The stowage cupboards, and other equipment had to be located but by doing so the configuration allows for two clinicians to be seated one either side of the patient and a third to be sat in the rear facing seat at the head end. This will allow for a Police Officer and a Social Worker to sit either side, a parent could sit alongside a child, or there would be adequate space for the helicopter crews to work on the patient if they decide they need to travel by road.

The work of the vehicle development team is still ongoing and the final decision about which 4-wheeled carry chair the ambulance will be provided with has still to be confirmed. All the information relating to the testing, trialling and staff feedback has been collated and the Trust has engaged the services of a consultant ergonomist experienced in ambulance working practices, to evaluate which chair will best serve the service and create the least risk of long-term injury to the clinicians that will be expected to use it on a daily basis.

IT was interesting to note how NEAS puts messages across to the members of public in their area:

Towards the end of the visit we met with members of staff and managers at their Newcastle Headquarters building where the data covering cost savings, weight savings, fuel savings, carbon footprint and reductions in running costs were presented along with all the safety features which have been included to create a safer workplace for our clinicians.

Following the visit to NEAS the team made a visit to the WAS UK facility in Burton on Trent in order to finalise the changes which came to light as a result of the consultation process. These changes came from a wide range of staff and it is hoped that the end product will reflect the constructive comments which members of staff put forward during the trial period.

Ensuring that the cupboards are the right sizes for the equipment pouches, that the IPC equipment can be freely and readily accessed, that there is adequate and sufficient space around the stretcher for clinicians to move without hindrance, all takes time and with meticulous attention to measurements down to the millimetre. The major safety factor is that member of staff and any other person travelling on a seat will be safely secured in a three-point harness at all times when the vehicle is in motion. There should be no requirement for a clinician to remove their seatbelt and be placed at risk by not being safely restrained in their seat.

A further report with photographs will be submitted as soon as the first vehicle is ready for viewing.

Jeff Pittman

Unison Health and Safety Officer