A STATE-of-the-art communications upgrade for ambulances in Wales has begun.
The £23 million technology refresh will improve the way information is passed between Welsh Ambulance Service control rooms and the frontline crews delivering care to patients.
Almost 800 vehicles will undergo the installation of the high-tech Mobile Data Vehicle Solution (MDVS), which includes a new vehicle data router and tablet device.
The upgrade is expected to be complete by late spring 2024.
Jonny Sammut, the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Director of Digital, said: “Reliable communications technology is vital to keep the wheels turning on our ambulance service.
“This technology refresh signals a new era in our communications, and one which will enhance the important link between the colleagues in the control room and the crews in the community delivering care to patients.
“Collaborating with partners to source and install the new equipment means the refresh can also be completed locally, minimising the downtime of vehicles and in turn the disruption to our day-to-day operations.”
The Trust is collaborating with a number of partners on the upgrade, including Ambulance Radio Programme (ARP), Terrafix, Telent, Panasonic, Centerprise and Ordnance Survey (OS).
The upgrade began by installing and testing the new equipment in a dozen ambulances in Bangor, Newtown, Merthyr Tydfil, Bargoed and Haverfordwest, which have since responded to more than 2,000 incidents.
A further 780 ambulance vehicles will be fitted with the latest navigation and mobilisation technology in the coming months.
Work to replace mobile communication systems for all ambulance Trusts in England and Wales is being led by the ARP, who have been instrumental in developing the technology and bringing together all the partners involved.
ARP Director Duncan Bray said: “ARP is pleased to see that collaboration between Panasonic and Telent will support the implementation of the MDVS into Wales.
“This is a prime example of collaborative working benefitting everyone involved.
“The go-live for WAST continues the ARP success of recent MDVS deployments to other ambulance Trusts nationally throughout England.”
Telent engineers will upgrade six ambulance vehicles per day, fitting ruggedised Panasonic Toughbook tablets and a vehicle data router capable of connecting to multiple bearers – including the Emergency Services Network – providing a resilient connection to mobile communications networks across Wales.
Grant Cowans, Telent’s Head of Operations (Ambulance Radio Programme), said: “We are delighted that the project is now underway, and these first installations underscore the importance of our partnership in upgrading the critical communications for ambulance vehicles across Wales.
“It has been a real honour working with all parties to make this happen.
“I look forward to reporting progress over the coming months, with Telent playing a vital role in installing the new technology to help the Welsh Ambulance Service continue to deliver life-saving and high-quality services for their communities.”
The Toughbook devices were manufactured at Panasonic’s European Configuration and Service Centre in Cardiff with components sourced from suppliers across Wales.
The Panasonic facility, plus a unit that the Trust has procured in Amlwch in Anglesey, will also be used to install the new devices.
Will Holmes, Emergency Services Business Manager at Panasonic Toughbook, said: “It is fantastic to see the MDVS solution incorporating the Panasonic Toughbook being rolled out to the Welsh Ambulance Service.
“This is the culmination of hard work and passion from all parties involved.
“It’s been amazing to offer a space at the home of Panasonic Toughbook Europe in Cardiff to support Telent and WAST to install this equipment, to help minimise costs to the service that supports the families of the Toughbook team that have helped to manufacture part of this mission critical solution.
“It’s also been a great opportunity for the dedicated Panasonic team to see the products that they work hard to produce going into a solution that is supporting their community.
“It’s a true story of how collaboration and teamwork between organisations can bring a positive impact to such a crucial public sector organisation.”
The new vehicle data router will run the Terrafix mobilisation software National Mobilisation Application (NMA).
Terrafix Managing Director Chris Green said: “The Terrafix-designed MDVS vehicle solution is a great upgrade to our legacy system successfully used for over 10 years in WAST.
“As we have designed both the vehicle hardware system and the mobilisation software package, we are able to structure the whole solution to be the best end user experience possible.
“Working collaboratively with all partners will benefit both the ambulance frontline crews and patient care by providing an improved and efficient ambulance data solution.”
The new system also integrates the most up-to-date mapping information for Wales from OS, including highly accurate road and addressing data.
Mapping updates will be streamed to ambulance vehicles regularly rather than taking them off the road for manual updates of the mapping products.
John Kimmance, Managing Director of National Mapping Services at OS, said: “Accurate and trusted OS data is being used every day to support a range of critical services, from enabling quicker responses to incidents to planning and delivering safe and secure major events.
“Every week we make tens of thousands of changes to the National Geographic Database capturing new buildings, roads, routing restrictions and addresses.
“This is essential data for all emergency responders, and it is great that the new NMA is delivering this data direct to the vehicles ensuring they are working with the same mapping as the 999 control rooms.”