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Hampshire Ambulance Service

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:59 am on 24th April 2001.

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Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire 9:59 am, 24th April 2001

My hon. Friend brings me back to our debates in the Committee stage of the Health and Social Care Bill. I hope that the House will soon have an opportunity to revisit that. I hope that the CHCs can continue to scrutinise the delivery of health care in Hampshire for some time to come.

When I visited the control and command centre at Winchester I learned that it was settling down but that it had had one or two teething problems, which may be behind some of the incidents that we have heard about today. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us a clear statement about where we are on reorganisation. It has been a diversion of management effort over the past few years to have the future of the ambulance trust put into question. There has been a lot of turbulence in Hampshire with the abolition of some trusts and mergers of others. I hope that the Minister will not go ahead unless she is convinced that this will directly alleviate some of the problems that have been mentioned this morning.

There is one issue on which the Minister may be able to shed some light. I understand that, in some parts of the country, the ambulances are no longer based at the ambulance stations but are sent to outposts in various parts of their area where it is felt that accidents are likely to happen. I can see that that would reduce the response time, but in my constituency ambulances are posted to a junction of the A303 and the A34. That may indeed be an accident site, but we have only two ambulances on duty and if one is permanently stationed at that junction it leaves the citizens of Andover rather exposed. Is there any Government guidance on how ambulances should be positioned?

I know that the Minister she will refer to the huge extra sum of money that she asserts has been made available to the health authority. When headline national increases of 8.5 per cent. were announced last November, I wrote to my health authority to find out the reality. Unsurprisingly, its perception was not quite as rosy as that of the Minister. In his reply, the director of finance at the health authority said:

"Needless to say, these headline figures only give the tip of the iceberg." He added that the general increase, estimated at 4.9 per cent., was intended to meet the pressures on pay, prices and the cost of implementing the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommendations. Significant cost pressures will need to be addressed, including a 2 per cent. rise in pension costs, the costs of implementing changes to junior doctor hours and the underlying financial deficit of the local health economy.

Some of the increase is ring-fenced to meet targets set by Ministers. If the ring-fenced and other money is deducted, it will be impossible significantly to improve the service. The penultimate sentence of the director of finance's letter says:

"There are many significant calls on this funding, particularly locally where there is an underlying financial deficit. Careful planning, phasing and prioritisation will be needed to deliver affordable and modern health services for local people." Against a background of some £30 million of savings, some of which will affect patient care, I asked whether, because more money was coming into the system, those savings could be abandoned. The response was that they could not because when plans for the savings were drafted it had been assumed that the extra money announced in November would be forthcoming. I quote the director of finance again:

"as the funding announced for next year is in line with the assumptions underpinning 'Meeting the Challenges', the proposals"-- the proposals to reduce services--

"remain valid."

Will the Minister make clear whether the reorganisation of the health service in Hampshire will lead to further turbulence? What progress is likely to be made on reviewing the funding formula, which lies at the heart of the issues raised in this morning's debate?