London Ambulance Service could become the first in the world to trial “driverless” technology to cope with a huge shortage of paramedics.
Yesterday the Evening Standard revealed of mounting concerns within the hierarchy of the London Ambulance Service at the impact of lengthening response times on patient care.
Now details of the top-secret project have come to light. It builds on previous grassroots initiatives within LAS to cope with staff shortages, including one idea of deploying paramedics on skateboards to speed through crowded streets and pavements.
Project lead Serge Purpool said: “The NHS is a hotbed of innovation. If we can get ahead of the game with driverless technology in ambulances then who knows what results this could bring in improving our care for patients in the future.
“We are bigger, better than Google, who are only trialling small driverless cars. We are going for a big yellow ambulance.”
LAS insiders say “driverless ambulances” are a common sight in the early hours, when worn-out crews drive their battered Merecedes trucks down Streatham High Road on “automatic choke”.
Trials of the new project involved a “crash test tummy” called Douglas. Front-line paramedics said they had decided to test the concept after LAS executives continued to drive the service downhill, and into a head-on collision with the NHS watchdog, the Care Quality Commission.
Serge said: “We wired him up to make small physical adjustments to steering or when we lost GPS. We spent a great deal of money on cameras inside the cab, as well as loads of sensors. All in all we spent £1,042,016. The sensors after 70mph did not really work, that is when we would take over remotely like a video game.
“Eventually we connected to broadband and we even got kids in the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Japan driving them.”
But other so-called “heroes in green” were not amused. One said: “We’re sick to the back teeth of being called ‘ambulance drivers’ by the public, when we actually know twice as much about medicine than the average hospital manager. This is the last straw. Has anyone got Jason‘s email? I’m off to Australia.”