£400m system will let 999 crews talk to each other

The Daily Telegraph 27/12/06


Nearly £400 million is being spent on a radio system for all NHS ambulance trusts which will enable crews to talk to police and fire services in emergencies.

The long-awaited details of the arrangement from the Department of Health follows criticism after the London bombings when poor communciation systems forced emergency personnel to use their own mobile phones.

The contract with Airwave is worth £390 million over 13 years. It is the same digital radio system, called Airwave, that is being introduced by police forces. It will improve ambulance communications in rural areas as well as communications between the front line services.

Lord Warner, the health minister said: "The ambulance service has made excellent improvements in patient care over the last few years. Digital technology means a more secure system, with less interference and improved interpretability between trusts and the other emergency services. The new digital equipment will provide a more reliable service and help bring further improvements to patient care." In September a report into the bombings published by John Reid, and the Home Secretary, and Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, criticised communications systems. An earlier report had also drawn attention to the same problems.

The more recent report said that serious communication problems had "probably degraded the emergency services' command and control capabilities".

The digital radios will start to be distributed in the new year and the programme will be completed by September 2008. The contract was signed more than a year ago.

More than 18,000 of the Tetra radios have been ordered for hand-held use, for motorbikes, ambulances and control rooms. The system will operate on the O2/Airwave network.

The new radio system will be inter-operable with police and fire service radio systems; provide improved communications between the emergency services; minimise the risk of interference with vital medical equipment and is more secure than existing systems.

 

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