LIVES could be at risk if plans to cut ambulance cover overnight in Bolton go ahead, campaigners have warned.

Under a shake-up proposed by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), Bolton could lose one of the four ambulances that attend emergency calls between midnight and 8am.

The organisation has been told to find £13.8 million of savings this year, meaning Bury and Wigan could also lose an ambulance.

Public services union Unison has launched a petition against the proposals, and Paul Foley, the North West head of health, said there is a real fear that people might die if ambulances are lost.

He added: “I think there’s a very serious risk to life and limb for the people of Bolton, and for the cover on the motorways by the M61 and M62.

“Time can be very critical in emergency calls — if someone has a heart attack or stroke, they need to get to A&E as soon as possible.

“I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the ambulance service but they are only doing this to save money.”

If implemented, Bolton will have three ambulances and four rapid response vehicles over the eight hours.

No frontline redundancies are currently expected — with the trust deciding to leave vacant posts unfilled to save cash.

But ambulance bosses have warned there is “no guarantee” jobs would be safe next year.

Two directors in the corporate department have already lost their jobs, as part £6 million of savings.

Derek Cartwright, director of operations at NWAS, said there are demands on the organisation to make financial savings and the majority of 999 calls do not require patients to be taken to hospital.

He added: “The ambulances we place in communities are planned around patient need and activity.

“We routinely review this throughout the North West, based upon the activity in local areas and if evidence shows that the vehicles provided are not working to full capacity, we would consider changing the hours it works.”

Health bosses in Bolton vowed to monitor the situation closely.

Su Long, chief officer of NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “NHS Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group, as lead commissioner, was presented with the cost improvement plan by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) at the Strategic Partnership Board.

“Blackpool CCG has concluded that NWAS has followed an appropriate process in respect of establishing the cost improvement process and given due consideration to risks and impact of each scheme across the North West footprint.

“If we identify any deterioration in performance arising from these changes, the matter will be taken up directly with NWAS for swift resolution.”

Michelle Redgard, divisional director of operations at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Bolton Hospital, added: “We will be working closely with the NWAS to ensure the best possible care is provided to patients in the Bolton area and that people are directed to the most suitable healthcare services.”