CAMPAIGNERS who want to retain their current ambulance cover in the Durham Dales have gone on the offensive over controversial proposals to downgrade crews.

The Rural Ambulance Group for Weardale and Teesdale, which monitors ambulance services in the Durham Dales, have pointed out that the proposal to replace ambulances crewed by two paramedics with ambulances crewed by a paramedic and an emergency care assistant (ECA) has been tried in other rural areas and abandoned.

The Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group has unveiled proposals which GP commissioners say will improve ambulance response times across the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield area.

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As part of the plans, which will be put to a number of public meetings at next month, the CCG wants to free up more paramedics to crew more vehicles across the whole patch “and help retain emergency vehicles in the Durham Dales area”.

The move will overturn a contractual arrangement made by the former County Durham Primary Care Trust that Dales ambulances will be crewed by two paramedics in recognition that the area is a relatively long way from hospitals.

The CCG is also promising to protect the current ring-fenced investment of £650,000 per annum in the Durham Dales and provide an additional response vehicle in the area.

But a spokeswoman for the Rural Ambulance Group said ambulance trusts in the East of England and West Midlands “are now actually reverting to using two paramedics per vehicle because they realise ECAs, who have only had seven weeks training in driving and first aid, are not fit for purpose in rural areas,”

She also pointed out that the promised additional rapid response vehicle would be based in Bishop Auckland and not in the Durham Dales.

A spokesperson for DDES CCG said: “Ambulance crews consisting of a paramedic, supported by an Emergency Care Assistant (ECA) are recognised as standard practice nationally. The Durham Dales area is the only area in the North-East that uses a double-paramedic crew. We believe that this is not the best use of our resources and we intend to make some changes to ambulance services in an effort to improve ambulance response times across the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield areas. This change to the ambulance crews, along with the introduction of an additional Rapid Response vehicle based in Bishop Auckland will also help to reduce the likelihood of out of area attendances by Dales crews.”