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

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

Tony Dell, chairman 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 predicted that the network would focus on the call connect target, clinical issues and the move towards foundation trust status.

A new network director and board will be appointed, with somepermanent ASA staff seconded to the NHS Confederation.Allexisting assets of the ASA will be ring-fenced and managed by the ambulance network board.

Mr Dell ruled himself out of the director’s role but said he hoped to serve in another capacity.

Hayden Newton, interim chief executive of the ASA, said the merger would give members better access to information and other 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 FT status’, he said.

Mr Newton had ‘no opinion’ on whether stab vests should be bought for ambulance staff, which many have wanted for the past decade.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw raised hopes last week when, in a written parliamentary answer, he appeared to suggest that stab vests - currently only available in London and Essex - would be issued to every trust in the country.

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

Jonathan Fox, spokesman for the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel, accused managers of ‘inertia’ for refusing to pay for vests or apply pressure on the DoH to fund them.

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