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Hampshire Ambulance Service

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:46 am on 24th April 2001.

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Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 10:46 am, 24th April 2001

Overall and in whole areas, performances have improved. As I said, a year ago only Staffordshire was meeting the 75 per cent. target; now, 14 of the 32 services are meeting it. I expect at least 29, including Hampshire, to have reached the target by the autumn. I know that progress in Hampshire has been slower than anticipated. That is simply not good enough. Hampshire ambulance trust and the local health authorities know that, too.

What is being done to increase the speed of progress? At my request, the Department's winter and emergency services team recently visited the trust and examined its improvement plans to ensure that all obstacles to progress had been identified. The trust's plan includes recruiting and training 58 more front-line staff, adding 11 emergency vehicles, strengthening control and support functions and changing staff rosters.

Hon. Members have spoken this morning of the need for additional resources for ambulance services. We recognise that, and the Government are committed to delivering first-class public services in Hampshire and throughout England. Because we are managing the economy better, we can afford record investment in public services. In 2000-01, we invested an extra £21 million in national health service ambulance services in England to help them to continue making progress by investing in extra vehicles and front-line staff. That funding has been made available on a recurrent basis and is being backed up with significant local investment. In Hampshire, that included £450,000 last year. A further £1.2 million is expected this financial year--an extra £1.7 million in total.

However, improving ambulance services is not just about more ambulances on the road; it is also about planning and partnership. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) made a point about where vehicles are located. Dr. Brand referred to ambulances being told to wait in car parks, which are not proper conditions in which to work. In fact, we are talking about a sophisticated process of anticipating where accidents will happen. Ambulances do not always return to the same base. In some areas, for example, they may share facilities with the fire services. In my area, ambulances make what they would call pit stops, for cups of tea and so on, at their stations. All the services are working together, and the best way of using vehicles in the most appropriate places is kept under review. That is the partnership to which I referred.

With Hampshire ambulance service, we have seen co-operation and collaboration on many initiatives that have benefited patients and helped the ambulance service. Further investment has been made. We have invested £3.5 million in modernising the accident and emergency department at Southampton general hospital.

Mr. Viggers referred to Haslar hospital. The reconfiguration process has not always been entirely happy, but the current arrangements mean that the services at the accident treatment centre will be continued. There is no particular timetable for Haslar's closure; we have said that it will coincide with the opening of the new private finance initiative hospital in Cosham. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that his constituents will continue to be served.

As for the review that many hon. Friends have mentioned, a formal period of statutory consultation will shortly commence. No decision has been taken; there is no fixed plan, as some hon. Members have suggested. We hope that implementation will be possible by 2002.

Our driving motivation is a better ambulance service, which serves the populations of all areas in the interests of patients, and responds to the changing needs of patients and to the reconfiguration of the NHS.