Patients with mental health challenges, learning disabilities, and acute psychiatric needs are now travelling in Mercedes-Benz ambulances designed to maximise safety while ensuring their journeys are as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
The two 5.0-tonne GVW Sprinters bear the name of Secure24, a specialist contractor to NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups, and the private healthcare sector, which operates from headquarters in East Grinstead, West Sussex.
Its latest ARU (Any Risk – Unknown) ambulances are based on 516 CDI L2 H2 panel vans supplied by local Dealer Rossetts Commercials. Empathy, care and security were the dominant themes guiding Secure24’s Head of Service David Boswell and his colleagues in designing the Sprinter bodies, which are the work of leading ambulance builder and converter Wilker Group.
The vehicles are used to transport individuals of all ages who are at risk and can present with challenging behaviours. Assignments include urgent and non-urgent transfers to and from hospitals, psychiatric units, prisons and other facilities, as well as court appearances, international repatriations and supervised visits.
Replacements for a pair of Sprinters that had been on the road since 2016, Secure24’s new ARU ambulances boast an exhaustive specification that includes several enhancements including additional infection control facilities and specialist support capability introduced on the basis of its own operational experience, as well as feedback from mental health professionals, patients and their families.
The most significant of these is the innovative cell at the rear of each vehicle, which – in what Secure24 believes to be an industry ‘first’ – has no bars. Instead, it employs full-height panels made from transparent reinforced Perspex.
“As an organisation working with risk we accept that in order to maximise safety there will be circumstances in which the use of a cell is necessary,” explained David Boswell. “What we don’t advocate is a cell that is both intimidating and isolating. Our ground-breaking achievement promotes inclusion and social interaction, while addressing the need for secure intervention.”
He continued: “It can be a daunting experience for a patient to travel in a vehicle with a cell, especially one with bars. Our design addresses this. We can even conceal the cell completely behind a screen, so when you open the side door to enter the hub of our ARU ambulance you wouldn’t know it was there.”
The cell also incorporates its own integrated and monitored climate control and communications systems, HD live video and audio cameras for monitoring behaviour, a media screen enhancing therapeutic practice, and an engineered seat with head protection. Patients can also stand safely inside, while surfaces are easily wiped clean and washable.
An inspection by the Care Quality Commission in 2019 recognised the company’s ‘Outstanding Practice’ in the operation of its ARU ambulances, and its recruitment and training procedures. Each vehicle is operated by a team of three staff, this being the minimum number required to effect safer control and restraint manoeuvres if necessary. All are highly trained and actively monitored.
Explaining the decision once again to base its ARU ambulances on Mercedes-Benz vans, Mr Boswell said: “The medium-length, high-roofed Sprinter is the ideal size for our conversion, and at 5.0 tonnes GVW offers the weight-carrying capacity we need.
“Although we work predominantly in London and the Home Counties, we provide a national service seven days a week, 365 days a year, and have plans in place to establish more stations in other regions. These vehicles therefore cover a lot of miles travelling the length and breadth of the UK, so we need them to be robust and resilient. Our first Sprinters certainly lived up to the model’s reputation for reliability over the last five years.”
Secure24’s rear-wheel drive 516 CDIs are powered by fuel-efficient 163 hp engines which are paired with optional seven-speed 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmissions. Mr Boswell observed: “The availability of the automatic gearbox is another important factor weighing in favour of Mercedes-Benz. It makes for a smoother, more comfortable travelling experience for all passengers, but most importantly the patient.”
Like all new Mercedes-Benz vans sold through the manufacturer’s official Dealer network, Secure 24’s Sprinters are backed by three-year, unlimited mileage warranties and came with MobiloVan cover, which includes free, round-the-clock emergency roadside assistance.
“Our ARU ambulances often need quick turnarounds between shifts, so the fact that the workshop team at Rossetts Commercials’ Crawley branch can service them overnight is also a big advantage,” said Mr Boswell. “The Dealer has helped us out on several occasions when we’ve had peak service demands and needed to get a vehicle in at very short notice for some maintenance work.
“Rossetts’ Off-Road & Blue Light Sales Specialist Martin Gearing also put us in touch with Wilker Group, who have done a first-class job. We’ve all worked well as a team, and our fantastic new vehicles are the result.”
A security professional who established Secure24 in 2014, Mr Boswell added: “I was determined when I started out to create an organisation that offers a specialist service which is truly designed to support people with mental illness and other conditions, whose challenging behaviour requires a secure approach.
“Not only do our latest Mercedes-Benz ARU ambulances allow us to manage a varying spectrum of risk, but they also provide a space in which, rather than feeling anxious or threatened, patients are included, supported and given hope.”