HEALTH bosses have performed a u-turn after coming under pressure to hold an additional public meeting to discuss controversial proposals to dilute the skills of ambulance crews.

GP commissioners had called four public meetings across County Durham next month to discuss proposals to replace one of the two qualified paramedics who currently staff 999 ambulances in Teesdale and Weardale with an emergency care assistant with driving and first aid skills.

The idea is to share out the limited number of paramedics across a wider area of County Durham and improve emergency response times.

But the public meetings in Sedgefield, St John’s Chapel, Murton and Middleton-in-Teesdale did not initially include Barnard Castle, the biggest town in the Durham Dales.

Barnard Castle councillor Tom Deacon emailed the CCG demanding that a meeting be held in the market town.

He argued that it didn’t make sense to have the proposals discussed at Middleton-in-Teesdale, which has a population of around 900, and not Barnard Castle, where more than 5,000 people live.

He also published a leaked internal North East Ambulance Service email telling ambulance crews in Teesdale and Weardale that the “process of implementation” should begin before any meetings were held - which he described as “absolutely shocking.”

Initially, the NHS group behind the ambulance plan – the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Groups (DDES CCG) - turned down his request.

In a press release dated August 11 the CCG said: “there are no plans to arrange any further meetings.”

But after pressure from Coun Deacon the CCG had a change of heart.

Yesterday (August 13) a spokesperson for NHS Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “The CCG has responded to feedback and will be arranging a further engagement event in Barnard Castle, the details of which will be confirmed very soon.

“The extra event is an additional opportunity for local people to find out more about changes to the delivery of ambulance services, which aim to improve ambulance response times across the area.”

Coun Deacon said: “ I am over the moon that they have now seen sense and they are having a meeting in the town.

“However, I do still have some concerns that the organisation that is implementing these changes doesn’t have an idea about the geography around here.”