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Ambulance Waiting Times

Volume 551: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2012

2. How many patients waited longer than half an hour in an ambulance to be transferred to accident and emergency in each year since 2009-10. (124135)

The Department’s records date back to 2010-11. The number of ambulance handovers delayed by longer than half an hour was 63,892 between 1 November 2010 and 24 February 2011 and 77,543 between 1 November 2011 and l March 2012.

On 27 September, patients and paramedics were left waiting outside James Cook university hospital in Middlesbrough for two and a half hours before being handed over. Dr Clifford of the college of emergency medicine described such delays as being due to an unacceptable mismatch in demand and supply. Does the Secretary of State agree with Dr Clifford, and what steps will he take to ensure that those problems do not recur for my constituents?

I am extremely concerned about what happened on 27 September. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that all the red 1 calls on that day were met within the target time of eight minutes, but the delays were completely unacceptable. I know that the trust is taking measures to ensure that the problems are not repeated, particularly looking forward to the winter time when there is likely to be extra pressure on ambulance services. I will follow the matter very closely, and I expect the trust to come up with measures to ensure that his constituents are properly safeguarded.

In the summer, I spent an interesting and thought-provoking day observing the work of a crew of the East Midlands ambulance service. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that ambulance trusts across the country, including the East Midlands ambulance service, are performing well in meeting their response time targets?

I can absolutely confirm that. In fact, I was extremely pleased to see last week that all the standards are being met for both eight-minute category A calls— red 1 and red 2 calls—and 19-minute calls. That is as it should be, but it is no grounds for complacency. Although that is a country-wide picture, there are parts of the country where those standards are not being met in the way that we would like. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

I will be charitable to the Secretary of State, but he brushed over the figures in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). I have got the actual figures through a freedom of information request. They show that under this Government, 100,000 additional patients are being left waiting in ambulances outside accident and emergency departments for more than half an hour when they need urgent treatment—a totally unacceptable situation. What more evidence does the Secretary of State need of the chaos engulfing the national health service under his Government? It shows that the focus has slipped off patient care and that our accident and emergency units are struggling to cope.

The hon. Gentleman speaks as though the problem of ambulance waits never happened for 13 years under Labour, but he knows that we actually had some appalling problems, with ambulances circling hospitals because hospitals did not want to breach their four-hour A and E wait targets. We are tackling the problem, and as I mentioned, if he looks at the figures published last week he will see that we are meeting the standards for ambulance waits that his party’s Government put in place. However, we are not complacent, and we are monitoring the figures closely. Particularly with the winter coming up, we want to ensure that the ambulance service performs exactly as the British public would want.

Many ambulance trusts are indeed doing extremely well, as the Secretary of State indicated. Does he agree that that is at least partly due to localism in the ambulance service, which may be undermined if, for example, the Great Western ambulance service becomes an amalgamated regional service? Now it has been announced that the call centre in Devizes will be closed in favour of one in Bristol. Does he agree that there is at least a risk that the local service for people in Wiltshire will be reduced if such regionalisation is allowed?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the purpose of the changes that the coalition Government have brought to the NHS is to tap into local innovation, ideas and ambitions to transform services, and it is important that no changes undermine that. He should take comfort from the fact that my predecessor introduced clear tests for any major reconfigurations, including that they should be strongly supported by local doctors, that the public should be involved in any consultation, that the changes should improve patient choice and that there should be clear evidence of benefits to patients. I hope that that gives him and his constituents some reassurance.