Ambulance chiefs in London have begun drafting the first of a new breed of Mercedes Benz vehicles onto their accident and emergency fleet.
In one of the biggest front-line ambulance deals ever seen in the UK, London Ambulance Service NHS Trust has ordered 130 Sprinter-based units worth some £4 million!
They are being introduced initially in south-east London but will then be phased in more widely across the capital. Over the next four years the Trust plans to switch its entire 395-strong accident and emergency fleet to the three-pointed star.
All 4.6-tonne 416CDI models with twin rear wheels, the Sprinters are equipped with full automatic transmissions and demountable UV Modular box bodies. In a break with an 80-year tradition, they are painted in high-visibility yellow rather than white.
Chief Executive and Chief Ambulance Officer Peter Bradley declares: "These new state-of-the-art ambulances not only look very different, they are also a real step forward for us in terms of their design. Their introduction can only help to further improve the quality of care we provide to our patients as we continue to modernise our service."
The new Sprinter fleet will enable emergency medical technicians and paramedics to improve the standard of care given to seriously ill or injured patients. Features include a more spacious working area designed to carry the latest medical equipment, tail-lifts to help ambulance staff moving patients in and out of the vehicle, and a new design of hydraulically-operated stretcher-trolley.
The Sprinter’s suspension also offers greater shock absorption than that of previous vehicles, an attribute that will benefit patients with spinal injuries, while time-saving satellite-navigation systems and mobile-data terminals will be fitted over the coming months.
Ambulance chiefs are now looking forward to making long-term savings because the Sprinters’ powerful 2.7-litre diesel engines consume up to 50 per cent less fuel than their petrol-driven predecessors. And although the chassis are expected to give six years’ service, their modular bodies should last double that time and can be re-fitted to new chassis cabs.
The London Ambulance Service NHS Trust came down in favour of Mercedes Benz after a wide-ranging evaluation exercise that involved ambulance crews and other NHS staff and took two years to complete.
Four demonstration vehicles were used for the trial, with crews ranking the Sprinter highly across a range of criteria including comfort, manoeuvrability, braking performance and safety.
Ultimately, though, two key factors tipped the balance in favour of Mercedes Benz:
The first was the 416CDI’s powerful 156bhp five-cylinder common-rail direct injection diesel engine, which offers greater performance than London’s existing V8 petrol-engined LDV front-line fleet but are also much more economical to run.
And the second was the fact that Mercedes Benz was the only manufacturer able to offer a factory-fitted, fully automatic five-speed transmission (a special order).
"Overall mileages are not particularly high," explains London Ambulance Head of Fleet Colin Jolly, "but it’s tough work, involving ‘blue light’ dashes through some of the most congested streets in the world.
"We were very anxious to involve staff fully at every stage in the vehicle evaluation exercise; after all, they are the people who have to work in these ambulances, day in, day out.
"The feedback we received on the Sprinter was very positive indeed, while Mercedes Benz played their part too by listening carefully to our requirements and responding in the right way. I have no doubt that the Sprinter will prove to be ideally suited to the job."
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