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Major Trauma Centre: Westminster

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to establish a major trauma centre in the immediate vicinity of Westminster to treat casualties in the event of any terrorist attack in the area.

My Lords, the NHS has well-tested plans and capability for responding to a terrorist attack and treating casualties. The attacks in London and Manchester in 2017 tested our capability. London has four major trauma centres where casualties will be triaged and treated, and this will include casualties from an attack in the vicinity of Westminster.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that thousands of people come into Westminster, including tourists from all over the world, people coming to work here, the police, demonstrators and both Houses of Parliament? Are we not a special case? Would it not be very good to have a special trauma unit at St Thomas’ Hospital? When there is a lockdown, we cannot move in Westminster.

My Lords, I pay tribute to all the brave members of the public, the NHS and Members of this place who so often have responded incredibly bravely when terrorist attacks occur. We owe a great debt of gratitude to all those individuals who do not think of their own lives in responding to protect others.

On the noble Baroness’s specific question about our capabilities in responding to risks that occur, we have a specific arrangement that has been put forward with the trauma network. The decision about the location of the trauma centres allows full geographic coverage while ensuring that the full package of care is available for patients when they come forward, which includes treatment for burns, orthopaedic injuries and neurosurgery. I know the noble Baroness knows there are four major trauma centres located in London at St Mary’s Hospital, St George’s Hospital, the Royal London Hospital and King’s. They are all adult and children’s major trauma centres and are all approximately three miles from Westminster.

More importantly, we have specialist ambulance capability in responding wherever an attack may occur in London. We can be very proud of the response that we have seen not only from the hazardous area response teams but from the tactical response units. Those responses have been in very short order and have meant that, although these were appalling incidents, their impact was much reduced.

My Lords, a study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal found that NHS hospitals seem in many ways unprepared for terror attacks, with half the doctors unaware of emergency plans and just over one-third aware of what to do personally if a major incident is declared. I thought the Minister’s answers were brilliant and very reassuring, but what action are the Government taking to ensure that all doctors receive education on their hospital’s major incident plan as well as an abbreviated version of their own particular role?

The NHS develops its plans in each hospital according to the Government’s national risk register and its planning assumptions underpin this. The security services then evaluate and publish the current threat level to the UK from terrorism and the NHS is made aware of any change to this, so that it can react accordingly. In addition, we provide training for paramedics for terrorist attacks, as I have mentioned. We have the hazardous area response team, comprising specially trained personnel to provide ambulance response to particularly hazardous or challenging environments, including following a terrorist attack. London also has the tactical response unit, which is designed to work as part of a multiagency team with police and fire services to respond to firearms incidents. In the most recent attacks, the response time for paramedics was within seven minutes. We have recently agreed to increase the number of marauding terrorist attack and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear trainee paramedic responders, and we will have a minimum of 240 responders in each ambulance trust.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s reassurances. Is she aware that in London last year 265 fewer members of the public attempted CPR on people nearby whose hearts had stopped? Does that not suggest that it would be more help to the people who work in and visit this building if we invited St John Ambulance to come to us again to deliver training on CPR and wider first aid interventions?

As ever, the noble Baroness makes a very sensible suggestion about wider CPR training. I will take up that point.

My Lords, with the closure of the fire stations in Victoria and across the river in Lambeth, is the Minister comfortable that the firefighting support for Westminster is adequate?

My noble friend raises an important point. Ambulance and specialist response teams have very tried-and-tested ways of working with the fire and rescue and police services to make sure that they preserve life during potential terrorist attacks. We can be very confident in that response, especially given their performance during recent events.

My Lords, London has some of the finest emergency services and best-equipped trauma centres in the world. The real problem is the deadly vacuum between the terrorist attack and the arrival of paramedics. Specialist and military experts have developed citizenAID, a free app with a proven record that gives ordinary people the ability to give life-saving first aid without prior training or equipment. Will the Government promote citizenAID nationally? London needs it now, as does the Parliamentary Estate.

The noble Lord makes a very sensible suggestion to look at ways in which we can encourage individuals to save lives. It may be appropriate in situations other than terrorist attacks and I am happy to look into it.

My Lords, many people think that St Thomas’ has a trauma centre and are very surprised when they hear that it does not.

I thank the noble Baroness for her comment. I think I have made the point that there is a trauma network across London to ensure full coverage for trauma across the city and enable individuals to get the best trauma service, wherever they may be.