THE Welsh arm of the UK’s leading first aid charity has welcomed proposals to shakeup ambulance services in Wales.

The plans, announced by health minister Mark Drakeford, will include separating patient transport services fromemergency work.

And St John Wales chief executive Keith Dunn said the organisation already has “an excellent record of providing patient transport services to the NHS in Wales.”

Under the proposals announced by Professor Drakeford, health boards in Wales will assume responsibility for buying in emergency ambulance services - through a new National Delivery Organisation - and will also be responsible for patient transport services.

These cover a range of provision, from routine transport for outpatient appointments, to clinical support for cancer and kidney patients.

St John Wales has in recent years become a key provider of such services, with contracts with health boards such as Cardiff and Vale and Cwm Taf. It also provides patient transport on an ad hoc basis for Aneurin Bevan Health Board in Gwent, and works closely with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust which remains the biggest patient transport provider.

“We welcome the recommendations by the minister for health and social services,” said Mr Dunn.

“We have a large number of vehicles on call seven days a week, and St John Wales transported more than 25,000 patients last year.

“St John Wales is the country’s leading first aid charity and we receive no statutory government funding. All profits are reinvested into the charity and used to assist our life-saving volunteers in local communities in Wales.”

Health board bosses have until the end of September to prepare a staged plan for separating emergency and patient transport services.

This will prove challenging, for on the ambulance trust side there are around 450 staff involved, and up to 1.3 million journeys a year.

It also provides the volunteer ambulance car service, and a health courier service employing more than 120 people, with a 90-vehicle fleet transporting material such as mail, laundry, medical records, pathology material, blood products, pharmacy supplies, controlled drugs, and the transport of nuclear medicine and radioactive waste.