SECRETARY of State for Health Jeremy Hunt has approved plans for South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust and Great Western Ambulance Service to join forces.

The ministerial signature on the formal GWAS Dissolution Order paves the way for the creation of a single ambulance service for the South West from February 1, when SWASFT will take on the services currently provided GWAS – creating an organisation serving more than 5.3m people.

GWAS chairman Peter Carr said: “When as a board we decided in August 2011 to identify a partner rather than pursue an application for foundation trust status as an independent trust, our decision was based on the best interests of patients, staff and taxpayers. That focus has remained throughout the rigorous process that has resulted in this welcome decision by the Secretary of State.

“I would also pay tribute to all GWAS staff who have continued to provide high-quality care to patients during what has undoubtedly been an unsettling time for them personally.

“It is pleasing that, during this period of change, GWAS has been shown as one of the best ambulance trusts in terms of clinical performance and response standards.”

Ken Wenman has been interim chief executive of GWAS for the past year and chief executive for SWAFT for many years. He said: “I have met many skilled and committed clinicians and managers within GWAS, mirroring the expertise I know we have in SWASFT.

“As a result, I am looking forward to the great opportunity we have to take the best from each trust. This will further improve the quality of care offered to patients, as well as further strengthening the role of ambulance services within local health communities.”

A GWAS spokesman said: “GWAS becoming part of South Western Ambulance Service will not lead to a reduction in front-line staff responding to patients. One of the key objectives of the partnership is to maintain the excellent patient care provided by both trusts, which are two of the best performing ambulance services in the country.

“It is likely there will be a reduction in support staff as the two organisations come together – this has already happened to some extent as staff who leave are not replaced or their roles are filled on a temporary or fixed-term contract basis. Consultation with all staff about how and where they will fit into the new organisation is continuing.”