Ambulance Pressures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 18th July 2022.

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Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 4:27 pm, 18th July 2022

Let me start with the area on which the hon. Lady was correct, which is that I recognise the increased pressure on ambulances and hospitals. That is why we put in place the long-established contingency plans. Since the heatwave in Paris in 2003, it is the case that each year in May, we put in place our heatwave plans. That is what has been activated. Those plans were refreshed as recently as two months ago and sit alongside the work that has been done on urgent and emergency care, including the 10-point action plan that was set out last September.

The hon. Lady is right: the House as a whole will recognise the significant pressure on the system, which is why we are taking the steps from our contingency plans. It is also why we have put in specific funding, such as: the additional £150 million of support targeted at the ambulance service; an additional £50 million for 111 calls to build capacity; and as she said, an additional £30 million for auxiliary ambulances, which is what the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield, was referring to in the House last week.

The Met Office and the UK Health Security Agency went to level 4 on Friday. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I updated the House on the first available sitting day after that. The irony will not be lost on the House that this issue is seen as so important that the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has failed to turn up to this statement in the middle of a heatwave. [Interruption.] Well, he is not here, which speaks for itself.

The hon. Lady also suggested that these challenges, which are being faced across Europe as a whole, were in some way due to the overall investment in the NHS. I remind the House that, to take the resource departmental expenditure limit alone, RDEL in 2010 was just under £99 billion and last year it was £150 billion. That is a good indication of the significant funding. We could also come on to capital investment, not least with the 40 hospitals programme, part of a £22 billion package to 2030, which underscores this Government’s commitment to investing in our NHS—an investment that, most recently, the Labour party voted against when we brought it to the House.

The hon. Lady asks about an apology for operational levels of performance. I do not know whether she is asking for that apology from the Welsh Government or just from the English Government. She may want to clarify that, given the performance of the Welsh ambulance service under the Welsh Government.

On the hon. Lady’s point about auxiliary, the Minister of State, Department for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, said in her statement that we had seen improvements in May. I referred to that as context, but on auxiliary in particular I can clarify for the House that a contract is being procured for auxiliary ambulance services and is expected to be concluded shortly.

Finally, the hon. Lady asked what meetings I have held over the less than two weeks that I have been in post. I am happy to share with the House that I have been on visits to four different hospitals, in Whipps Cross, Hillingdon, King’s Lynn and Bedford; I have been out on two different ambulance shifts, been to three different ambulance centres, been out to see GPs to look at boosting access to their services and been to look at life sciences. I have been engaging, and that sits alongside, for example, the meeting with chief execs of ambulance trusts on Saturday, Cobra on Saturday and other such meetings that I have had in the course of my duties.

Finally, the hon. Lady asked about the Prime Minister’s engagement. Just as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster set out that he was engaging with the Prime Minister in his role chairing Cobra as Minister for the Cabinet Office, I am happy to confirm to the House that I also engaged with the Prime Minister over the weekend, updating him on the health plans we have put in place. He has been closely engaged on the contingency we have put in place.