Major upheavals in ambulance services but too soon to say if they will affect Magpas decision?

HUGE changes are afoot in the region’s ambulance services after it emerged that two key figures were no longer at their posts.

Simon Gray, chief executive of the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) for six years, will leave the charity at the end of January next year to take up a new role with the Association of Air Ambulances (AAA).

And the East of England Ambulance NHS Trust’s (EAAT) chief executive officer David Donegan has taken urgent leave due to personal circumstances.

The news comes amid a row between the air ambulance service and Magpas, the charity which supplied volunteer doctors on board one of its two aircraft for three years, until last month.

The row began as EAAA announced its decision to relinquish the free scheme in favour of a private firm, which already runs air ambulances services in London and Essex, saying it would provide a more efficient year round service.

Spokesmen for both ambulance services denied that the changes were in any way connected to the row.

But a source said that the changes were down to the decision to not allow Magpas’ volunteer medics to use the air ambulance.

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As announced, EAAT is to employ EMSC, a private firm than runs ambulance services in London and Essex, to provide doctor services on a commercial basis, and Anglia 2 will move from RAF Wyton to Marshall Airport in Cambridge, where a hangar can be used for maintenance.

Antonia Brickell, Magpas communications coordinator, would not discuss the reason for the changes, but wished Mr Gray the best in the future.

She said: “Magpas does not want to be involved in any row. A row was never what we wanted. We just want to continue to provide top-notch services to save lives.”

Andrew Egerton-Smith, chairman of the EAAA’s board of trustees, paid tribute to Mr Gray’s work.

He said: “We’re hugely indebted to Simon for the commitment he has shown to making the charity one of the most effective air ambulance services in the country.

“He has made an outstanding contribution to the development of the air ambulance service in our region. The charity has made great progress under his leadership and has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.”

Prior to Mr Gray taking up his new role with the AAA - the representative body for all 18 air ambulance charities in England and Wales – he has been granted leave to help him prepare.

Mr Gray’s deputy, Steve Whitby, will take on additional responsibilities while the trustees begin the search for a new chief executive.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for EAAT confirmed that Mr Donegan was also on leave.

A spokesman said: “David Donegan has had to take urgent leave due to personal circumstances.”

As revealed, the Norwich-based EAAA said last month that the provision of doctors on board all flights made by its two aircraft, Anglia One and Anglia Two, was unsustainable working with Magpas.

Magpas has however said it will continue to respond to calls using its rapid response land vehicles, as well as the police helicopter.

The charity has warned that changes to the provision of doctors for the air ambulance could cost lives.

Magpas had reserved around 50 doctors, who donated their free time to fly to emergencies across the region in the backup air ambulance helicopter, Anglia Two.

The EAAA said that Magpas was given the opportunity to tender for the contract earlier this year but Magpas resolutely denies being offered the chance to bid.

Chief operating officer for Magpas, Daryl Brown, has called for a “transparent and public debate” on the matter.

The EAAA, which costs �3.5m a year to run, also concluded that moving operations from RAF Wyton to Marshall Airport would save �132,000 a year, and that parting company would save the cost of having an aircraft and pilot available but having to stand down on days when no Magpas crew was available.