The ambulance service will gain greater 'political clout' through a new NHS Confederation network.

The network will combine the Ambulance Service Association, which represents trusts, with the NHS Confederation's ambulance forum.

The merger is intended to give the ambulance service a more powerful voice in the NHS in line with primary care, mental health and acute trusts, which already have their own established NHS Confederation networks.

In the past, the ambulance service has been seen as segregated due to its plethora of unions and membership organisations, all with different, sometimes conflicting, agendas.

Tony Dell, chair of the confederation's ambulance forum, said: 'The network will eliminate a lot of the duplication that previously existed and have a unifying effect.'

'Ambulance people often feel they are being left behind the rest of the NHS. This will mean we are thought of as an integral part of the health service, not a bolt-on.'

The network would combine the 'technical excellence' of the ASA with the confederation's 'political clout', he said.

He added the network would focus on the call-connect target, clinical issues and the move towards foundation trust status.

ASA interim chief executive Hayden Newton said the merger would give members better access to information and people working in sectors such as PCTs and acute trusts.

'Developing relationships will be very important as we develop the commissioning role and look at foundation trust status,' he said.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw appeared to suggest that stab vests - only available in London and Essex - would be issued to every ambulance in a written parliamentary answer last week.

But the Department of Health told HSJ no additional funds would be made available for the£300 vests and it was up to individual trusts to decide whether to buy them.

An Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel spokesman accused managers of 'inertia' for refusing to pay for vests.

'It's getting more dangerous for staff,' he said. 'Trusts are making excuses for not providing stab vests. They will keep resisting until someone gets seriously injured or worse.'