Trust relies on Ducato for support
The relationship between West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) and Fiat Professional, which goes back more than a decade, has been vital in keeping on top of the increased demand experienced during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The service has a mission-critical core fleet of 480 ambulances and a wider fleet of 1,300 vehicles, including specialist hazardous and major incident response units.
These hard-working vehicles and teams of paramedics cover 5,000 square miles across the region and the fleet puts 20 million miles on the clock each year. The vast majority of the ambulance fleet (97%) is made up of Fiat Professional Ducato.
Tony Page, WMAS head of fleet and facilities management, says: “If our fleet of ambulances don’t get to where they need to be, it is literally life or death. These vehicles are helping to save lives every day and so we need them to be reliable, safe and efficient. We wouldn’t continue to buy Ducato if that wasn’t the case.”
WMAS was used as a benchmark for the Lord Carter report into NHS efficiency that advised ambulance trusts to use lighter panel vans, rather than box alternatives, due to cost savings on fuel economy and the cost to convert. The report, published in September 2018, said this would save up to £5 million a year on fuel and £56m on conversion costs over five years – £11.2m annually.
The WMAS Ducato ambulance has been used as the template for what could become a standardised ambulance across the country, as the NHS looks to eliminate variation in model types. It now accounts for more than 70% of the business of the 10 NHS Trusts across England and this is growing.
The WMAS Ducato fleet is doing big mileages and the teams of paramedics and clinicians are responding to more than a million 999 emergency call-outs each year.
The trust has a network of 12 specialist workshops that have teams of specially-trained WMAS vehicle technicians to maintain the fleet and keep downtime to a minimum. This aftersales work is supported by Mopar (FCA’s aftersales division) approved parts which are delivered into the workshops, as well as additional Fiat Professional training and spares from WMAS’ conversion supplier VCS.
Fiat Professional dealership Guest Truck and Van also plays an important part by offering warranty, pre-delivery inspections and handover services.
Page says: “Our supplying dealer group Guest really goes above and beyond for us and it’s only through a combination of support from the dealer network, VCS and the team at Fiat Professional that really helps to keep the fleet running efficiently.”
Robert Spittle, Guest Truck and Van managing director, adds: “For a number of years Guest Truck and Van has been working with the team at WMAS to ensure maximum uptime for its frontline ambulance fleet.
“While the trust has its own workshops, we carry out warranty work, but also act as a back-up for routine maintenance and repairs along with technical diagnosis. We have trained and continue to train our team in all the operational requirements of dealing with ambulance trusts and their role in saving lives.”
WMAS runs its ambulances on a five-year replacement cycle and Page says he can track wholelife running costs down to the penny.
Each VCS-converted Ducato is fully operational at less than four tonnes and has resulted in a wholelife cost saving of £1,460 per vehicle each year and fuel savings of up to £1.6m across the ambulance fleet compared with a heavier box van.
The weight loss has also contributed to a 16.6% reduction in NOx emissions, a 6.9% reduction in CO2 emissions and fleet savings of more than £3.5m due to lower wear and tear on items like tyres and running gear.
Spittle says: “We know that running the vehicles for that length of time works out as much better business for us.
“We’re getting the latest vehicles on a quicker turnaround that have the latest engines, technology and safety equipment. The larger box alternatives have to be run for much longer, at around 10 years, because they’re more expensive in the first place.
“It’s another reason why the Carter report has recommended that ambulance services switch to the lighter van conversion.”
Pulling out all the stops
WMAS’ support network was called into action earlier this year to help with its plans to pull forward its new vehicle orders by four months to make sure it had enough vehicles to deal with increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic.
Page retained 38 frontline ambulances, converted 74 lower tier patient transport vehicles to operate on the front line and brought forward 118 new vehicle orders that still needed to be converted so the ambulance service was prepared for Covid-19 and the potential for a second wave.
The Fiat Professional factory in Italy prioritised production on all Ducato ambulances to get chassis through to conversion specialists in time for an accelerated timeline.
Page says: “The plan was to stagger the new orders throughout the year up until March 2021, but the pandemic meant we had to change our plans and Fiat Professional responded in kind.
“We wouldn’t have been able to scale-up the fleet in time without Fiat Professional and VCS working hard to make it all happen.”
WMAS ambulance crews spend a lot of time during their eight-to-12-hour shifts behind the wheel, so it’s important they’re in a vehicle that is comfortable, as well as fit-for-purpose.
Page says data from WMAS’ telematics system has been sent on to Fiat Professional to help continue to refine the Ducato and he says the result is an ambulance that is the most refined yet.
He says: “Fiat Professional and our conversion partner VCS have done a lot of work to shed weight and we have managed to lose 200 kilos.
“The model year 2020 also comes available with a nine-speed automatic transmission, which helps even further with refinement and, as a result, it’s a much better driving experience for the clinicians. The ride, handling and conversion quality is the best we’ve ever seen.”