Paramedics have marked the end of an era in Waterwells with a charity ball, as control room staff there prepare to leave for Bristol.
The South West Ambulance Service control room has been a vital cog in the tri-services wheel, providing links in crisis management in the county for almost three decades.
Streamlining in February saw a merger with Great Western Ambulance Service to create a single foundation trust covering the largest area in England, from the Cotswolds to Cornwall.
As part of the plans, 29 staff from the Quedgeley site will move to Bristol from tomorrow.
Gloucestershire staff Sarah Owston and Kath Walters organised Saturday’s masquerade ball, raising money for Stroud-based Meningitis Now.
Around 200 staff enjoyed a champagne reception, three-course meal, disco, collection and raffle, at Hatherley Manor Hotel.
Sarah, 31, said: “The closure and relocation is an extremely sad occasion.
“The Gloucester office has been open since 1986, so it’s a massive upheaval for all of us. “We decided to organise the staff ball as an ‘end of an era’ celebration of our time in Gloucestershire.
“At the same time, we also thought it would be a great chance to fundraise.”
Critics claim the area now covered by the trust is too vast, but the chief executive said it will improve efficiency, with the workforce and budget being easier to control in the face of Government cuts.
Ambulance chiefs claim the Wiltshire facility’s relocation will save around £700,000 a year.
The centre in Waterwells, Quedgeley, currently houses all three emergency services and won acclaim following a visit by the Prime Minister.
Emergency 999 calls are not answered from the county’s control room, but it has been used to mobilise ambulances across Gloucestershire.
Shane Clark, Unison representative for the South West Ambulance Service Foundation Trust, said: “It is sad times, but it is the modern way of providing emergency services.
“Gone are the days of local control rooms. That is just how it will be until more money is ploughed into local services.
“During the floods of 2007 and last year’s heavy snow we have shown how important the service has been operating from there.
“The move will give us two control rooms in Exeter and Bristol. Ambulance staff are not completely moving out of the Gloucestershire Tri-Emergency Centre, various services will remain.
“Very little will change but there will be a small group of core, local staff who will have to make that move to Bristol.
“Staff were given the option to move. A handful who had difficulty with the move have been supported well by the trust.
“A group of pool cars will be kept at GTEC so staff who have to commute will not have to use their own cars. “Geographically this is the most unique area in the country. The Trust is struggling but as long as the Government measures the service on performance rather than patient outcomes, we are going to continue to struggle.
“The way that performance times are measured is absolutely barmy in the modern day.
“From a control room perspective, there is just a handful of vehicles available to dispatch to emergencies.
“The emergencies still come in when all the ambulances are already dispatched.
“Until there is more investment, we will not meet targets and inevitably patients will suffer. Unison would never support the idea of the fire service taking on rapid response duties. We need more vehicles and more paramedics. Trucks are expensive, £570,000 a year for a 24/7 vehicle is not cheap.
“Unless we get extra money, it isn’t going to happen. Our staff are doing an amazing job, but they need help.”