NHS ambulance supplier suspends production to help convert armoured vehicles in Ukrainian war effort
The UK’s main supplier of NHS ambulances has suspended normal production, to carry out vital work converting former armoured vehicles for use by medics in the Ukrainian war effort
The Venari Group in East Yorkshire has already converted 50 former British military vehicles into specialist armoured ambulances. Dozens more will be converted for medical use in the weeks ahead.
The Ukrainians are losing between 15 and 20 ambulances a day to Russian fire and are in desperate need of more robust replacements.
Exhausted local medics are having to use totally unsuitable vehicles, like local work vans, to ferry the injured to hospitals.
The Venari Group, based in the East Yorkshire towns of Goole and Brighouse, is the oldest manufacturer of ambulances in the UK and is responsible producing around 80 percent of the country’s emergency medical vehicles.
An order for more than a hundred paramedic vehicles for the London Ambulance Service has been put on hold while the company concentrates all its efforts on producing the armoured ambulances.
Oliver North, Venari’s CEO, told GB News that NHS Trusts across the country were only too willing to help out and put their orders on hold.
He said: “We've luckily had the support of our NHS Ambulance Trust customers in moving them to the right for four to six weeks so that we can concentrate on this project.
“They've not only been understanding, they’ve been quite cheerleading of it as well. It’s something they fully support."
Mr North said his workforce were working flat out to ensure the new vehicles get to Ukraine as quickly as possible.
He added: “Something that we've seen on this project like no other, is that the guys are coming from their homes where they've been watching the news with the war unfolding and for them, and for myself, it doesn't seem to be business at the minute.
“This is personal and the guys are building with that personal edge. To them, they're working through their break times, they’re starting an hour earlier without clocking in, and they’re finishing later But you know it's nothing by comparison to what the Ukrainians are doing on a daily basis.”
At the very least the Russians have been indiscriminate in their targeting. But many Ukrainians claim their medics have, in some instances, been deliberately targeted.
Mark Gresty, Head of Special Operations at the Venari Group, said the converted armoured vehicles will offer Ukrainian medics a far greater degree of protection.
Mr Gresty said: “Everything inside them is big and it's chunky and it's designed to not be broken.
“These are ex military vehicles that have got to be designed that way, they're cross country capable. They have ballistic protection, which means they can take small arms fire to a degree. And they can take a relatively close explosion.
"And of course, they’re also white. They've got a big Red Cross on them. They're fit for purpose. They've got good, reliable chassis and engines, and they can go across the rugged terrain of a conflict and war zone, where the normal infrastructure and street furniture has been basically blown away."
The area’s local Member of Parliament Andrew Percy helped conceive the idea of converting the former military vehicles into armoured ambulances.
A volunteer paramedic, the MP said: “The project kind of snowballed. These guys really need armoured kit and stuff that can really go over all all sorts of terrain and from there we put this proposal together.
“The Ukrainian Embassy raised funds through some donors as well. We connected lots of dots and here we are now with these vehicles going out to Ukraine to save lives.
“These armoured vehicles came to this plant still in their battle green, with some of the spent shells from Afghanistan still stuck in the webbing.
"And these specialist armoured ambulances had to be prototyped. Because there wasn't a design ready just to go, to turn them into ambulances.
"The company did all that. The guys here worked 24/7. I think everybody here can be so proud of what they've done.”
So far, the Venari workforce have produced 50 armoured ambulances. 15 have already been sent to Ukraine.
More funding, through the Ukrainian Embassy and private donors has already been secured for dozens more armoured ambulances in the weeks ahead.