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Hampshire Ambulance Service

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:10 am on 24th April 2001.

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Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers Conservative, Gosport 10:10 am, 24th April 2001

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this important debate on the Hampshire ambulance service. I recall the days of the original arrangements for the service in my Gosport constituency. Two ambulances based at the Bury Cross depot were responsible for transporting patients to and from the local hospitals and for undertaking transfers for out-patients. It was a locally based service that was well received. I had few complaints and I would like to add my tribute to the ambulance workers who undertook those services then and now. No one enters the ambulance service without a sense of vocation, which I discovered whenever I talked to ambulance workers in my constituency or in Hampshire generally.

The old arrangements could not continue into our modern, high-tech age. The new arrangements described today are now organised at the command and control centre in Winchester. They are intended to be much more efficient, but worrying teething difficulties have occurred. I recall a constituent telling me that an ambulance was called for her husband who had suffered a heart attack. It came not from Gosport, but from Hayling island, some distance from the constituency. The ambulance was delayed and, because the driver did not know the route into Gosport, the patient's wife had to talk him through it. The patient's daughter was sent out into the road with a torch to guide the ambulance in. Unfortunately, the patient died.

That is not the only case. The reorganisation and restructuring has meant that ambulances have had to come into my constituency from a considerable distance away and, because the drivers and crew do not know their way around the area, unacceptable delays have occurred. We must all hope and trust that the new system described by Sandra Gidley and by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young)--the high-tech control and satellite navigation systems and the upgrading at Winchester--will produce a more efficient system in the longer term. I am grateful to the Hampshire ambulance service for providing one extra ambulance in the Gosport area to take account of the extra demand.

I shall not repeat points already well made by the hon. Lady and my right hon. Friend, but I want to raise two further issues based on my experience of dealing with the Hampshire ambulance service and local circumstances in my constituency.

The Government have been slow to keep the Hampshire ambulance service abreast of developments in merger discussions and changed funding systems. The Government were slow and unresponsive to local concerns. It took two years for the ambulance service to clarify the Government's thinking on the proposed merger and refunding. Members of Parliament should not have to intervene in such discussions. I pay tribute to the Minister; I raised an issue with her in the House after a Division, which her office followed through. I am grateful for that first-class response. However, there seems to have been fuzziness in the lines of communication between the Minister's Department and the Hampshire ambulance service, which I hope can be clarified.

My constituents would not forgive me if I did not make the point that the range of difficulties created in the Gosport peninsula and south Hampshire have been seriously worsened by the Government's announcement that they propose to close the Haslar hospital in Gosport. It was originally announced that the closure would not take place before 2002, but its accident and emergency unit has already closed. We have fought the closure with absolute determination; 22,000 people came on the march in January 1999, which is thought to be the largest march in protest against a hospital closure. Because of our fight, the closure will not take place before 2007, or even later. The private finance initiative bid for Queen Alexandra hospital, which would enable it to take on much of Haslar's work load, has again been delayed. We therefore feel confident that we are winning our campaign. The number of out-patients who can be seen at Haslar hospital is to be increased from 55,000 to 60,000; Haslar also has an accident treatment centre. However, that does not diminish the fact that the closure of its accident and emergency unit has made life much more difficult for the ambulance service in the area. Ambulances now regularly have to mix with the tidal flow of traffic out of Gosport in the morning and back into the town in the evening. If the Government rethink their plans on Haslar--as they must--the pressure on the ambulance service will eventually decrease, to enable it to provide a better service for the people of south Hampshire. We will continue the campaign on that issue.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Romsey for raising the debate and to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire for his informed contribution to the discussion. I add a plea that reorganisation and turbulence be diminished and that those responsible for the ambulance service in Hampshire be given the funding and the decision-making capacity that will enable them to continue to carry out their work.