PLANS to create a single ambulance service to cover the whole South West are due to go ahead early next year.

A deal to merge Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS) with the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is expected to be signed on February 1, 2013, creating a new trust which covers the largest area in England.

The idea of amalgamation was first proposed in August 2011 when GWAS announced it was not in a position to become a foundation trust, a status the Department of Health now wants all ambulance services to gain, in its own right. It looked for a partner organisation and announced last October that SWASFT was the preferred option.

John Oliver, spokesman for GWAS, told a meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s health scrutiny committee that although the merged trusts would cover a huge area, the new South West service would not lose its way.

"All services will be transferred to the new trust, so 999 calls, ambulance transfers and out of hours services will move over," he said. "And all staff will immediately transfer to the new trust.

"The expanded trust will cover the largest geographical area in England but will only be fifth or sixth out of 11 in terms of income so in no way will it be too big.

"We are not proposing to make any changes to the service itself, just the way it is managed. All 999 calls will continue to be provided as they are today and people living in South Gloucestershire will still have their call answered and dealt with in their area.

"We aim to achieve all national targets in the first full year of operations, so by March 2014."

He added: "We would not want to join SWASFT if there were not benefits to everyone.

"Financial savings were not the main force of the partnership although clearly there are opportunities to make them including management costs as we will only need one board and one chief executive."

GWAS currently has three control rooms, at the Almondsbury interchange in South Gloucestershire and in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, although the Wiltshire facility is being relocated to Bristol to save £700,000 a year. SWASFT has two control rooms and Mr Oliver said it would be up to the new organisation to decide which facilities were maintained.

"It is very important we retain local knowledge and operational managers will continue to be based in the areas they are covering," he said.

"Everything is not going to be centralised in SWASFT’s headquarters in Exeter."