A major reorganisation of ambulance services in England will put the skills of HR professionals to the test in the coming weeks.
The government has confirmed that from 1 July the number of ambulance trusts in England will be reduced from 29 to 12.
By creating fewer, larger trusts, the government aims to cut bureaucracy, thereby freeing up money to invest in frontline services.
The mergers will inevitably lead to job losses and restructuring, as organisations share back-office functions and other resources.
Sian Thomas, deputy director of NHS Employers – the organisation responsible for supporting the ambulance service through the changes – said she was confident the HR capability existed to successfully deal with upcoming challenges.
“In the past few years there has been a big improvement in skills and extra investment into developing capability,” she said. “But there may be a capacity issue as there is a huge amount on the NHS people agenda.”
But Ray Carrick, assistant general secretary of the Ambulance Service Union, warned that there was a huge variation in the ability of some HR people, and the tight timetable could lead to some problems.
“I hope we don’t come to regret that [the mergers] are being done so quickly,” he said. “The union is already starting to hear stories of cutbacks and staff who leave not being replaced.”
The Ambulance Service Association, which represents all 29 trusts, said the mergers were a continuation of restructuring over the past few years.
“Senior management are well versed in organisational change,” said chief executive Richard Diment.
“I suppose this time we are experiencing a ‘big-bang’ effect, which is different to what has gone before.”
The government also announced that the number of primary care health trusts in England will be halved, sparking fears of yet more job losses in the NHS.