A DEDICATED transport service will be introduced to avoid impacting emergency ambulances as the amount of patients ferried across Essex for treatment increases.

With the merger of Southend, Basildon and Broomfield Hospital in full flow, a partnership with first aid charity, St John Ambulance, is being trialled so ambulances are not taken away from emergency situations.

From December, three additional patients a day will be transferred from Broomfield Hospital to the specialist cardiothoracic centre in Basildon – adding to the 14 already transferred between the mid and south Essex hospitals every day.

The hospitals are currently failing to hit targets for treating life-threatening heart problems meaning transfers to the specialist centre could save lives.

New beds will be created and the move aims to “ease winter pressures”, but the ambulance service is already under strain.

The East of England Ambulance Service spent almost £10million on private ambulances and taxis last year – either being sent to 999 calls or to transport patients in non-urgent cases.

“Longer term we have committed to introducing a dedicated transfer service as part of the wider changes which we are planning on making to hospital services so that the existing 999 ambulance service is not affected,” Tom Abell, deputy chief executive for the Mid and South Essex University Hospitals Group insisted.

“We are currently piloting a service in partnership with St John Ambulance in order to learn how best this new service will operate.”

Major concerns have been raised throughout the merger planning – it was only in July the secretary of state gave the plan the green light after both Southend and Thurrock councils attempted to block the move.

Residents have been quick to query the move as well. Paul Hurd, 66, of Basildon, said: “Are our ambulances going to be too busy ferrying patients between hospitals to attend incidents?

“Will all our ambulances just be sitting in traffic between hospitals?

“Unless we can magically teleport emergency patients I don’t know how it will work.”

But hospital bosses claim patients are being put first – transfers aim to be limited to emergency situations – and traditional “patient pathways” used as non-emergency patients are referred from one hospital to another.

Mr Abell insisted those pathways will be strengthened as the number of patients transferred increases.

He added: “National quality standards from the British Heart Rhythm society say that patients with life threatening heart blocks should be treated within 24 hours.

“We currently struggle to provide this service across the whole of the county. This new system will be able to achieve this. Patients will benefit from immediate access to senior medical care 24 hours a day and an earlier hospital discharge.

“It’s important to understand that we currently transfer around 14 patients daily across our three hospitals so they can access emergency specialised treatment for burns, cardiology and ear, nose and throat treatment.”