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Ambulance Response Times (London)

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2014

First, I praise the hard-working staff of the London ambulance service, who responded to 100,000 more calls last year. We know that the service is under some pressure, and that is why we are providing extra support to the NHS in London, including £15 million for the ambulance service to help to ensure that the trust meets standards in future.

London ambulances are taking, on average, two minutes longer than they did three years ago to respond to the most serious call-outs. The chief executive of the service is quite open about the fact that she does not have enough staff on each shift every day. This is a service in chaos. Will the Minister be explicit about the support her Government are giving to ensure that my constituents, and Londoners, get the service they deserve [Official Report, 27 October 2014, Vol. 587, c. 1-2MC.]

This affects my constituents too, as I am also a London MP and therefore take a very close interest in it. I think it is unfair to say that the trust is in chaos. It is taking urgent steps to address the situation, including recruiting extra paramedics, increasing overtime, and reducing the number of multiple vehicles attending each call. We are working with Health Education England to increase the pool of paramedics, with 240 being trained in 2014, going up to 700 in 2018. Urgent measures are being taken to address the problem right now. I have had those assurances directly from managers in the trust whom I met very recently.

It is a fact that ambulances are taking longer to reach patients in the most critical condition. Today we are publishing figures regarding the increasing use of private ambulances. Nobody expects a private company to respond when they dial 999. Private ambulance usage has grown by 82% in the past two years nationally and by over 1,000% in London over the same period. Will the Secretary of State now admit that he sees no limit to the role of private companies in the national health service?

That is complete nonsense. The previous Government occasionally deployed private ambulances, which trusts use occasionally when they need to do so. This is another part of Labour’s myth of creeping privatisation, which is not true—it is absolute nonsense. It is important, however, in the interests of patient safety and as a short-term measure, that if that is what it takes, trusts must do it, as happened under the previous Government, because patient safety comes first.