HEALTH regulator Monitor has authorised West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust as a new foundation trust, effectively privatising it from 1st January, 2013.
The trust will now benefit from a variety of new freedoms from government control.
It will be able to take decisions to fundamentally alter the service.
It will be able to retain any surpluses it generates to invest in new services, and can borrow money to support these investments.
It will be accountable to the local communities, with local business people as members and governors.
These freedoms mean West Midlands Ambulance Service can better shape its healthcare services around the privatisation requirements of its commissioners.
The authorisation of West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust means there are now 145 NHS foundation trusts in total, of which 41 are mental health trusts.
Meanwhile, NHS executives have appealed to people across the North East to think before they dial 999 over the festive period.
Hospital emergency departments and the North East ambulance service are put under extra pressure each year by people who turn up at hospital with a minor ailment because they think their GP surgery is closed or they ‘don’t want to bother’ their doctor.
NHS North said a number of people visited A&E on Christmas Eve because they thought their GP was closed, instead of checking with their surgery.
All GP surgeries across the region are open as usual for the rest of the Christmas period, except New Year’s Day.
Dr Mike Bewick, medical director for the North of England, said: ‘On Christmas Eve, we saw people contacting out-of-hours services or visiting A&E because they thought that their usual GP practice was closed.
‘Even on the days when your GP surgery is closed, you can still contact them to hear a message which gives out-of-hours contact details.
‘It’s really important to remember that 999 and A&E services are only for seriously ill people and life-threatening emergencies. A well-stocked medicine cabinet can deal with many minor ailments and injuries and your local high street pharmacist is a good source of advice on illnesses and the right medicines.’
Commenting on these issues, BMA member Anna Athow told News Line: ‘West Midlands Ambulance Service Trust is now running as a business and financial interests will definitely come first.
‘So we can expect to see fewer ambulances, less highly trained teams and a worse service.
‘It reinforces the urgent necessity for the trade unions to organise action to get rid of this government and restore the NHS as a public service.’
About stopping people going to A&Es, Athow added: ‘They are aware that the hospitals are full to bursting at this time of the year because of the cold weather and that there is a national shortage of beds, therefore they are trying to pressurise patients to avoid presenting to an A&E when they develop symptoms.
‘In my view this is very dangerous as most people really don’t want to bother the hospital unless they are very worried they are ill.
‘And it could mean delay in diagnosis and therefore worse complications for the patient and longer stays in hospital because of it.
‘We know that many hospitals are operating at 85-95% capacity the whole year round. This is clearly an edict from on high to try and keep patients away.’