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Sandra Gidley for the opportunity to debate the ambulance service in Hampshire. As she says, it is a topical matter in my constituency. Last week's edition of the Andover Advertiser, the voice of Andover, led with the story to which she referred. She quoted extracts from Caroline Inman's report, in which a fire brigade representative said:
"Ten years ago we would have attended fire calls, road traffic accidents etc and we knew the ambulance would be only minutes behind us.
Now, we're having to get more and more of our staff trained in emergency first aid".
I visited the Andover ambulance station in my constituency, the command and control centre in Winchester, and NHS Direct, which I understand is run by the ambulance service. Like the hon. Lady, I have a high opinion of those who are at the sharp end as well as those who are providing back-up services, those who are managing the command and control centre and those who are trying to run the service.
The debate that the hon. Lady initiated is symptomatic of a broader debate, which confuses my constituents and should worry the Government. We are coming to the end of a Parliament in which the health service has been a Government priority. We have all seen the NHS plan that was published last July, and we have seen the Prime Minister on the Frost programme, promising more resources. Many of us were in the House last November when the Secretary of State made a statement about more resources for the NHS. Yet the rhetoric does not match the reality of the everyday experience of my constituents.
The hon. Lady mentioned some worrying incidents. The delays for out-patients are now worse than they were. For example, in the third quarter of 2000, 1,058 out-patients were waiting 26 weeks or more, which was up from 548 a couple of years earlier. People are waiting for wheelchairs. Someone waiting for a wheelchair in my constituency may receive a letter from the Winchester and Eastleigh NHS trust that states:
"Equipment will either be refurbished or new. Owing to budget control it is not possible to order all new equipment immediately ... If you have not heard from us regarding provision of this equipment after four months please contact this office, when it may be possible to give the anticipated time before the items can be provided." My constituents are confused. The reassurances that they hear from Ministers do not match what happens in their everyday lives.
The hon. Lady mentioned the resources that are available to the Hampshire ambulance service trust, and I want to focus on that for a moment. As she said, the trust receives resources from the three authorities for the area--the North and Mid Hampshire NHS health authority is the one for my constituency--which are resourced according to a formula. In my view, the formula is unfair. The NHS ambulance service in Hampshire is under pressure because the resources for the county as a whole are less than they should be. For every £100 of NHS resources allocated nationally, my constituents receive £80. We are deemed to be 20 per cent. healthier than the rest of the country. I do not believe that that is the case. Not all deprived people live in deprived areas. More than half of the most deprived individuals in the country live outside the most deprived 20 per cent. of wards. Any resource allocation to health authorities and ambulance services that targets only the most deprived wards will miss more than half of the most deprived people.
In April last year, the Minister set up a panel to scrutinise a document entitled "Meeting the Challenges", which was about funding for Hampshire health authorities. The panel was appointed to examine proposals aimed at achieving savings of £13 million in the health service in Hampshire. That panel said of the formula that funds the Hampshire ambulance service that
"The National Funding Formula for Health Authorities is at the heart of the problem. This is a challenge for central Government ... North and Mid Hampshire Health Authority receives 80 per cent. of the national needs assessment. Panel members felt strongly that this was too low." The next remark is especially interesting.
"We heard no evidence to support such a large reduction in the national needs "norm". What is more, we were told of both urban and rural 'pockets of deprivation' within the Authority, where an 80 per cent. allocation was arguably inadequate ... This challenge lies at the door of Government but the authority should fight for it, too."
The formula is being looked at, but over a rather leisurely time scale and there is no prospect of imminent help for Hampshire, which needs a more equitable distribution of resources. That shortage of resources is at the heart of some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Romsey. In a letter dated
"Unfortunately, in common with many ambulance services across the country, we were unable to secure adequate additional funding to meet our identified needs."
That matter worries the Winchester and Central Hampshire community health council. General practitioners in my area have also raised the question of the ambulance service not arriving within the response time targets. There are possible plans to centralise paediatric intensive care at Southampton hospital. That may make good medical sense, but it will put a lot of pressure on the ambulance service to transfer those vulnerable babies. The CHC and the local MPs will keep an eye on that as it will mean an increased demand for the ambulance service and more funding will be needed if that is to be secured.