Skip to main content

Police: Ambulance Support

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of police forces supporting ambulance services by taking patients to accident and emergency departments.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my interests in the register.

The public deserve the right service from the right organisation at the right time. Only ambulances should be used to transport patients to A&E as only ambulances are clinically equipped and staffed to do so. Incidents where the police transport patients to hospital are very rare and the emergency services continue to work together to reduce them further.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer; however, I think he is incorrect in saying that it is a very rare occurrence. Freedom of information requests have shown that the number of cases of people being taken to hospital to accident and emergency departments runs in the thousands in recent times. He is also aware, because he sent the figures to me, that, for example, in London the ambulance service has failed to meet its emergency target in terms of time in every single London borough in each of the last three months. What exactly do the Government think they are doing about making sure that there is adequate coverage for the emergency services? Is the intention that, despite all the Minister’s fine words about the importance of ambulances, the reality is that the police will have to act as paramedics?

I do not think that the noble Lord is right. The actual number of times that police transport patients to A&E is less than 0.1% of all such conveyances. I agree that there are some particular problems in London. There is a shortage of paramedics and they have an active recruitment plan to correct that. There have also been management problems in the London Ambulance Service and its performance, to which the noble Lord correctly draws attention, has not been good enough. There is now a new chief executive of the London Ambulance Service, who is fully aware of the issues. She has recently published the report about the levels of bullying in the London Ambulance Service, which are very distressing. The fact that that has been published and that she has acknowledged it give me hope for the future.

My Lords, building on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is the Minister aware that in recent months in London—and also outside—there has been a significant increase in the use of police officers to invoke emergency powers under the Mental Health Act to take people who are mentally ill to a place of safety? While police officers have a can-do mentality, it is disturbing that they are being used to deal with mentally ill people because of an absence of other professions to deal with this. It warrants an assessment of their use in relation to mental health.

The noble Lord raises a very important point. Apart from being an extra drain on the resources of the police, it can often exacerbate a mental health problem if someone who is already very distressed ends up being transported in a police vehicle. Under the mental health concordat, to which all ambulance services are signed up, they are committed to reducing the number of times that people detained under the Mental Health Act are transported in police vehicles. We will monitor performance against that very carefully.

My Lords, the Mental Health Act code of practice clearly says that people with mental health problems should not be transported by police vehicles. In the Midlands the ambulance service transports roughly 75% of people with mental health problems—that is reasonably good but not acceptable—while in Lancashire the figure is as low as 5% and in London it is 30%. Have the Government made any assessment of this, given what the Home Secretary said about police cells being completely inappropriate places of safety for people with mental health problems? Police vehicles should not, wherever possible, transport mental patients.

The noble Lord is right: it is quite wrong for people to be detained under Section 136 in police cells. It is also wrong that people suffering from severe mental health problems are transported in police vehicles. I am not aware of the figures that he gave for the West Midlands in comparison with other parts of the country but I will look at them very carefully.

My Lords, I am sitting next to a living example of the situation that we are discussing about the police helping. We are all delighted to welcome back my noble friend Lady Knight. She was found in her garden by her gardener, who was convinced that she was dead. He was terrified and immediately decided to call the police. Eventually she got to hospital by ambulance in enough time, but under those circumstances, when you call the emergency services, how much time does it take to decide who you are going to send—the police or an ambulance? Naturally, if she had been dead, the police would have been the most appropriate people.

I am sure that my noble friend will never die; she is clearly immortal. When you dial 999, the ambulance service has eight minutes to respond in such a serious matter as my noble friend has described. Then a fully equipped ambulance must arrive within 19 minutes. In the last two months, 75% of all such “A Red” calls have been met by the ambulance services.

My Lords, on the question of the London Ambulance Service’s performance, when does the Minister expect the LAS to perform according to the targets that it has been set?

The performance of the London Ambulance Service is improving, albeit too slowly. A new chief executive has just been appointed and the TDA is following the performance extremely carefully. We hope that improvements will continue to be made.