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Helicopter Ambulance Service

Volume 173: debated on Wednesday 6 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland on what criteria the decision was taken that a helicopter ambulance service is to be fully funded by the National Health Service in Scotland.

A commercially sponsored trial in the highlands shows that a helicopter ambulance service represented value for money and improved the service greatly. The service is continuing on the basis that it will not add to the costs to the National Health Service overall.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, although the decision to fund the helicopter service in Scotland in full from Government sources is not begrudged in Cornwall, it caused dismay, consternation and puzzlement? The NHS has refused to make any contribution to the first helicopter ambulance service, which was provided in Cornwall. Did any special circumstances apply to the decision to fund in full the operating costs of the service in Scotland? Does my hon. Friend accept that the experience in Cornwall with that first helicopter ambulance service shows that the service is viable and valuable? Should not the same criteria therefore apply?

The helicopter ambulance service in Cornwall does a splendid job and has been commercially sponsored and supported by the community. Following the pilot scheme in Scotland, which was commercially sponsored, it became clear that the service represented value for money and that it would improve the quality of patient care. For those reasons, and within the existing resources available to the ambulance service, it was decided to take on the helicopter ambulance service for the highlands. The decision was based on the interests of patient care. Any expansion of that service may well involve sponsorship as it applied in Cornwall, but because that is not my responsibility, I cannot give my hon. Friend any detail on aspects relating to the project in Cornwall.

Is the Minister aware that the proposal to cut hospital services in East Lothian by a crippling 22 per cent., including the closure of the casualty unit at Roodlands hospital in Haddington——

My question will be about that. That proposal will give rise to serious difficulties in transporting about 600 casualty patients a month from East Lothian to the accident emergency unit at Edinburgh royal infirmary. Does the Minister believe that the existing ambulance service can cope with that, or is he thinking of helicopters?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at Scottish Question Time he has cheered when the Government's policy on competitive tendering has been attacked. He will be aware also that the revenues that have been saved in the Scottish ambulance service as a result of the pilot scheme on competitive tendering in my constituency are almost sufficient, over the three-year period, to meet the costs of the helicopter ambulance service.

The hon. Gentleman will know that Lothian health board's proposals, which involve hospitals in his constituency, are out at consultation at present, and they will come to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for consideration in due course.