Ever since he was 13 years old, Anthony Marsh has wanted to help save lives and dreamt of becoming a paramedic. Nearly three decades on he tells Health Reporter Emma Brady how he plans to revive the West Midlands Ambulance Service
Anthony Marsh is a passionate man - especially when it comes to his ambitions for the West Midlands Ambulance Service.
The former chief executive of Essex Ambulance Service, who turned the ailing trust into one of the UK's best performing services, is keen to wipe the slate clean for a new start, including the ongoing rivalry between Staffordshire and the West Midlands.
Both trusts were "named and shamed" yesterday for mis-reporting response times to life-threatening Category A emergency calls, following a Department of Health investigation into how control centres recorded the information.
Staffordshire Ambulance Service, which responded to 87.5 per cent of calls within the eight-minute target time - against the national target of 75 per cent - maintains its times are the best in the UK.
But bosses feared a merger with West Midlands would compromise the service's high level of performance.
Mr Marsh, who asked to head up the Midlands' trust rather than new services in Essex and the North-west, admits there is much room for improvement in relations.
"This is a new regional service, with a new chief executive, so I am determined that this in-fighting will stop, and we will work together in partnership for the better of the organisation and our patients," he said.
"All that history, all the infighting between West Midlands and Staffordshire, is something I'm not interested in. I want to make the new West Midlands Ambulance Service one of the best, if not the best, in the UK.
"I opted to go for the post in this region because there are challenges here. I could've stayed in Essex or gone back to the North-west, but I wanted to come to the Midlands.
"Last year this trust was nearly £3 million in debt, but we are set to break even this year, and there are performance challenges as well as those associated with our partnership with Staffordshire."
From April 2008, all ambulance trusts will be using the Call Connect system, which starts the response time clock as soon as a call comes in.
But Mr Marsh admits this makes it harder for trusts to reach the national target.
He said: "I would argue guidance on this has previously been very clear, certainly my previous trust was not one of the six found to be misreporting response times.
"All ambulance services will see their performance deteriorate as a result of this change in when the call clock begins, but we've got to ensure we achieve and maintain the national target of 75 per cent response to Category A calls within eight minutes."
The regional ambulance service - formed following a merger of the old West Midlands, Coventry and Warwickshire, and Hereford and Worcester services - employs more than 3,500 people and covers an area of 6,000 square miles.
During public consultation, concerns were raised that paramedics working in the new structure would lose their vital local knowledge as a result of covering a much larger area. There were also fears the move could result in the closure of smaller stations.
The 41-year-old added: "The region is much bigger than Essex but it has many of the same problems and issues, with a similar mix of rural and urban centres.
"West Midlands is a much larger service now, so we can be more flexible, but that will not mean closing ambulance stations, although we do have some stations which need relocating to new premises.
"There's a lot more to do here than there was in Essex, but even if the reconfiguration had not happened I would still have looked at this trust as my next challenge.
"Before the reconfiguration trusts were using 40 types of vehicles, different computer systems, and reporting protocols, now we all sing from the same songsheet."
Name: Anthony Marsh
Employment History: 1987-1995: Joined Essex Ambulance Service
1991: Qualified as a paramedic with Essex Ambulance Service
1995-1999: Hampshire Ambulance Service - divisional commander
1999-2002: Lancashire Ambulance Service - director of operations
2002-2003: Greater Manchester Ambulance Service - director of operations
2003-2006: Essex Ambulance Service - chief executive 2006- present: West Midlands Ambulance Service - chief executive
"I was 13 when I realised that I wanted to be an ambulance man, after I discounted all those childhood dreams of being a train driver, footballer and so on, but at that time you couldn't become a paramedic until you were 21.
"However, I have no idea why this occupation appealed so much to me, my parents did not work in the health sector, it was just something I had always dreamt of doing.
"I am very passionate about what we do in the ambulance service and I really want West Midlands to be the best in the country."