I thank the Backbench Business Committee for bringing this important matter to the House. I congratulate my constituency neighbour, Guy Opperman, and my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley, both of whom paid moving tributes to their air ambulance services—the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and the Great North Air Ambulance Service.
The debate has been well considered and well informed. As hon. Members have said, it came about following an e-petition, signed by nearly 150,000 people, that calls on the Government urgently to review the amount of VAT paid on fuel for air ambulances and
“to return in the form of grants to Air Ambulance Service providers all the future VAT which the Treasury collects from them”.
I should like to put on the record my thanks to all those who have taken the time to sign the petition and bring this important matter to the Floor of the House.
We all now know that air ambulances play a key role in communities up and down the UK. They have been in use since the beginning of the 20th century. Early versions included the Red Cross’s “Florence Nightingale”, which began to carry vital medical equipment across the country in 1934. However, it was not until 1987 that the first UK air ambulance charity, the foundation of the modern air ambulance service, was established in Cornwall.
The most recent air ambulance charity was established in Hertfordshire in 2008. There are now 30 helicopters in service for the 18 air ambulance charities in England and Wales, with a further two run by the Scottish
Ambulance Service. We have heard moving tributes to the work that the services undertake around the country. To give the overall picture, I should say that they undertake 19,000 missions a year, servicing 177 accident and emergency departments. On average, an air ambulance takes off every 10 minutes in the UK; every hour of every day, seven air ambulances may be attending accidents and medical traumas around the country.
The emergency teams have an enormous impact on our communities and play a vital role in supporting and extending the work of conventional land ambulances.