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Meanwhile the ambulance service may still be at risk

Are you at risk of needing an ambulance in a hurry? If you are a human being at all and therefore prone to the sort of weaknesses that limit our capacity to live forever, the answer is “yes”. So, are you confident in the technology that will deliver said ambulance to your workplace or home in an emergency? If you’re a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the answer is unfortunately “no”.

The problem, according to a government statement, arises from the early transfer of the emergency service infrastructure to a new system earlier than expected. As this news service has reported before, the PAC is far from confident that the new infrastructure will be ready on time. In fact its report says the change “strikes a major, potentially catastrophic blow to the ability of our emergency services to carry out their job and keep citizens safe”.

That’s not exactly mincing words.

Ambulance system swapped out

The existing system, called Airwave, is showing its age and the expanding population means it won’t be long before it’s not fit for purpose. Replacing it has for some time been beyond discussion, it has to happen.

However, earlier this year it became apparent that the designated replacement, Emergency Services Network (ESN), might not be ready in time for the late 2019 switchover. It also appeared that nobody had built any flexibility in case of slippage into the plan.

Meanwhile, if there is a delay, Vodafone’s agreement for its part of the project suggests that it will switch its component off in March 2020. Assuming concerns over the delay prove correct, this will leave communication between the emergency services difficult or extremely restricted until September 2020 when the whole system is certain to be live.

The report concludes that it is essential to communicate with Vodafone and its partner on this occasion, Motorola, as communications – particularly with underground train services – will be compromised if the situation isn’t improved. It suggests this is a bad thing because it means public money is being spent without any certainty of delivery.

That’s PAC’s brief, which is fair enough. Our worries are a great deal more fundamental than that.