Plans to develop a new multi-purpose ambulance centre in Gillingham have been given the green light by planners.

In a first for South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, (SECAmb), the development at Bredgar Road would comprise of a new Make Ready Centre for the Medway region, as well as 999 and NHS 111 operations centres relocated from Coxheath and Ashford in Kent respectively.

Following the approval by Medway Council planners, and subject to full business case approval from SECAmb’s Trust Board, building work is expected to begin at the site early next year ahead of it becoming fully operational in 2022. The development will be funded with a previously announced £6.52 million of government capital funding.

The Trust’s Make Ready system, which is already in place across much of SECAmb’s region, is a vehicle preparation system which sees specialist teams of staff employed to clean, restock and maintain the Trust’s fleet.

Ambulance crews currently starting and ending their shifts at Medway and Sittingbourne ambulance stations will, instead, start and finish at the new centre. They will then respond from ambulance community response posts across the region with suitable rest facilities for crews between calls and when on a break.

Staff based in Sheppey will continue to start and end their shifts from the ambulance station on the island which is currently undergoing a major refurbishment and upgrade to provide new educational and training facilities.

The plans would see the new Make Ready facility in Gillingham housed on the two lower floors of the new centre while staff currently based at the Trust’s East 999 Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Coxheath will benefit from a modern open plan office above. The Trust’s NHS 111 staff, currently based in Ashford, Kent, will occupy the top floor.

Bringing the 999 and 111 services under one roof will allow for greater support for each service, with the modern facilities matching the Trust’s West Emergency Operations Centre, based in Crawley, which opened in 2017, and reflects the ambitions of the Trust’s Five-Year Strategic Plan to deliver new integrated urgent care services over a wider area.

Having both of these services housed in the same building will facilitate greater sharing of best practice and, where feasible, will enable the Trust to optimise functions between the two.

An integrated region-wide approach will provide clearer pathways for patients and a more efficient and resilient emergency and urgent care response service. The development also provides SECAmb with greater capacity, allows it to improve the ratio of 999 call taking across its two Emergency Operations Centres and will bring local recruitment opportunities for people across both 999 and 111 services.

SECAmb currently operates eight Make Ready Centres across its region with the latest set to open in Brighton in the coming months.

SECAmb Associate Director of Contact Centres and Integrated Care, John J O’Sullivan said: “I’m really pleased the project has been given the go-ahead by planners. Our current Emergency Operations Centre for the East of our region is outdated, lacks space and is no longer fit for purpose. In addition, bringing our 999 and 111 operations under one roof provides us with greater resilience and enables the two services to work more closely together to benefit patients across our whole region.”

SECAmb Operating Unit Manager for Dartford & Medway, Will Bellamy added: “This latest stage in the roll-out of our Make Ready system is an important step in the development of the service we are able to provide our patients locally. The system is more efficient and also means ambulance crews have access to improved modern facilities for training.

“We understand that changes like this have an impact on staff and we will fully engage with all those the development affects ahead of go live in 2022.”

What is Make Ready?

• The Make Ready initiative significantly enhances and improves the service SECAmb provides to the community.

• It minimises the risk of cross-infection, frees up front-line staff – who traditionally cleaned and re-stocked ambulances – to spend more time treating patients, and keeps vehicles on the road for longer.

• The initiative ensures that specially-trained operatives regularly deep-clean, restock and check vehicles for mechanical faults.

• Make Ready Centres are supported by a network of Ambulance Community Responses Posts (ACRPs) across the area with staff beginning and ending their shifts at the new centre.

• During their shifts, staff will respond from the ACRPs which will provide facilities for staff. These are located based on patient demand.

• Crews continue to respond from the same towns under the system but begin and end their shifts at staggered times with a vehicle that is fully prepared for them.

• The system ensures crews have access to improved training facilities and opportunities and increased support from managers.