A LEAKED internal email which suggests controversial changes to the County Durham ambulance service have already been agreed ahead of a series of public meetings has angered councillors.

A copy of the internal email from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) to ambulance crews in Teesdale and Weardale was obtained by Councillor Tom Deacon, a member of Barnard Castle Town Council.

He told The Northern Echo: “This looks as if they are already making these changes yet we still haven’t had a single public meeting. It is absolutely shocking.”

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The NEAS internal email is about changes to the "skill mix" of ambulance crews operating in the two rural dales - proposed by the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group.

The CCG want to abandon the policy of ensuring ambulances in the Durham Dales are crewed by two paramedics.

In a bid to improve ambulance emergency response times and distribute paramedics more evenly across the entire DDES patch, it wants to replace one of the Durham Dales paramedics with an Emergency Care Assistant - who has blue light driving and first aid skills.

The controversial proposal has already been criticised by councillors and the Weardale and Teesdale Ambulance Monitoring Group.

The CCG has called a series of public meetings over the proposals in Sedgefield, St John’s Chapel, Murton and Middleton-in-Teesdale next month to discuss the proposals - but Cllr Deacon said the email makes him think the decision has already been made.

The NEAS email states: “NEAS have received confirmation from DDES CCG that the changes have been agreed by their executive team and have now instructed NEAS as a provider organisation to begin the process of implementation,” and station meetings are being arranged for both Weardale and Barnard Castle ambulance staff.

The Barnard Castle councillor said he was also concerned at the absence of a public meeting in Barnard Castle, which has the largest population in Teesdale.

John Shuttleworth, who represents Weardale on Durham County Council, said: “It just shows that they are going to consult and then take no notice of what people say. People who live in the Durham Dales are going to be given a second class service

A spokeswoman for the NEAS said the CCG “want to bring the Dales into line with the rest of the UK in how crews are made up. The national norm being one paramedic and along with an Emergency Care Support Worker. That’s what we are now working towards”.

A spokesperson for DDES CCG said: “The CCG has secured agreement with the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) to a number of changes to the way ambulance services are currently delivered, with the aim of improving ambulance response times across the CCG area.

“On 5 August 2014, the CCG’s executive confirmed its commitment to support NEAS in implementing proposed changes to ambulance services across the DDES area.

“These changes have been informed by working closely with the Dales Rural Ambulance Monitoring Group and the wider Ambulance Patient Reference Group over the last 14 months. This valuable engagement feedback contributed significantly to our commissioning activity with NEAS and allowed us to secure agreement to these changes. These were presented to the most recent meeting of the Health Overview and Scrutiny meeting in July.

“As a result, the CCG is embarking on a series of engagement activities to present the changes to local people, to ensure that the public’s feedback is incorporated into how we implement and monitor these changes on an ongoing basis.”