Ambulance design update

National Ambulance Sector Meeting

Unison Health & Safety has been working closely with the Trust for over two years on the design and development of our next generation front line ambulance. During this time, four concept ambulances were produced and members of staff were afforded the opportunity to become further engaged by road testing the ambulances or reviewing them at bases & hospitals.

The Lord Carter report includes that there should be:

No unwarranted variations in the delivery of ambulance services
Improvements made in the infrastructure of the wider NHS to help frontline staff to work more efficiently
Every member of the public should have access to their GP during the week, at nights and at weekends
Staff levels of sickness must be reduced
Staff must have the right level of support
Effective Fleet management including black box technology

The Trust Vehicle Development Group worked on creating a new specification that would include “warranted variations” to ensure that the design incorporated features that would improve the safety of the crew and the patients. Other improvements include:

Safer clinician seats which no longer face sideways
Clinician seats are closer to the stretcher to permit treatment whilst still seated and belted while the vehicle is in transit
Equipment located close at hand avoiding the need to stand whilst vehicle in transit
Powered self-loading stretcher to reduce musculoskeletal injuries
Midline stretcher position to enable three seated clinicians to work while seated
Higher ceiling in patient saloon area to reduce the need for stooping
Patient saloon lower floor for easier access and egress
Weight of response bags reduced to reduce musculoskeletal injuries
Piped oxygen removed to reduce risk of fire and explosion

Further improvements include reduced cost, better fuel consumption, lower running costs, better environmental impact, improved staff and patient experience. The specification was agreed by the board, sent out for tender and a contract agreed.

NHS Improvements are of the mind set that all ambulance services must use a van conversion design for all future ambulances from April 2019 and because this would impact on our service, it was agreed that I would attend a meeting of the National Ambulance Sector to challenge the NHSI decision.

There is currently no national design or an agreed specification for an NHS emergency ambulance and presently 60% of emergency ambulances are of a modular coachbuilt design (box) while just 40% use the smaller van conversions.

On Tuesday 26th February I attended the Unison National Ambulance Sector meeting at Unison Headquarters in London along with representatives from all the other ambulance services in the UK. The meeting included an address from Mark Gough (NHSI) who put forward the NHSI case for restricting ambulances to a single design with no variations or alterations being made locally.

I was able to address the meeting and provided them with a summary of the work undertaken by EEAST in conjunction with Unison Health & Safety over the past two years and how we believe that our new ambulance includes warranted variations which improve staff safety and provide a vastly improved clinical area which the smaller van conversion ambulance designs would not be able to achieve.

Unison is the largest ambulance trade union in the United Kingdom representing more than 20,000 members who work in all roles within the ambulance service. The stand point of the National Ambulance Sector was that although we welcomed the response to the consultation, we were disappointed that the engagement by NHSI only started at this consultation phase and that there had been no Trade Union involvement in formulating the planned specifications that are now being consulted on.

The decision was taken not to agree with the NHSI implementation of a van conversion ambulance for all ambulance services and a formal statement will be released accordingly.

Unison believes that when evaluating ambulance conversions, similar weight should be placed on the working environment this provides for staff and which ambulance is the best clinical space for the patient. Partnership working between ambulance employers and trade unions on vehicle design has been an area that has worked very effectively locally. If a national vehicle specification is to be introduced Unison believe that national partnership working will be key to its success.

The National Ambulance Sector proposed that a sub group be established to provide input into the development of the national specification and I have indicated my interest to become part of that group.


Jeff Pittman

Senior Paramedic

East of England Ambulance Unison

Health and Safety Officer


28 February 2019