THE merger of ambulance services covering counties from Gloucester to Cornwall, including Wiltshire, has been approved.

The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has approved plans for South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) and Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS) to join forces.

The ministerial signature on the formal GWAS dissolution order paves the way for the creation of a single ambulance service for the South West from February 1, when SWASFT will take on the services currently provided GWAS, creating an organisation serving more than 5.3 million people.

GWAS chairman Peter Carr, said: “When as a board we decided in August 2011 to identify a partner rather than pursue an application for foundation trust status as an independent trust, our decision was based on the best interests of patients, staff and taxpayers.

“That focus has remained throughout the rigorous process that has resulted in this welcome decision by the Secretary of State.

“I would also pay tribute to all GWAS staff who have continued to provide high-quality care to patients during what has undoubtedly been an unsettling time for them personally.

“It is particularly pleasing that, during this period of change, GWAS has been shown as one of the best ambulance trusts in terms of clinical performance and response standards.”

Great Western Ambulance service currently employs more than 1680 staff and the South Western Ambulance Trust – which has been awarded Foundation status for its sound performance – employs 2,200.

Heather Strawbridge, Chairman of SWASFT, said: “I would like to thank staff from both trusts who have worked – and continue to work – so hard to make this partnership a reality. It has been a pleasure to work with Peter Carr on this project and I thank him for his leadership of GWAS which means our new, expanded SWASFT is starting from a strong operational and clinical position.

“People in the GWAS area now have an opportunity to be part of an NHS foundation trust and I would encourage individuals to join as members and to consider standing as governors as we are committed to working with our communities to ensure they receive the best ambulance service possible.”