There are three answers to that: critical cases, non-critical cases and transport for patients’ families and carers. Let me start with non-emergency transfers, which at the moment are provided through patient transfer services, as my right hon. Friend knows. They are available in Southend when medical conditions are such that patients require the skills or support of staff on or after the journey. He is absolutely right to say that critical cases, or those that do not fit into the first category, are provided by the East of England Ambulance Service. He will not be surprised to learn that, even in my short time as Minister, I have already been made aware of some of the issues with that service. Nor will he be surprised to hear that the Department is working with the relevant authorities to ensure that standards and resources are made available to bring the service up to the expected standard, and that ambulance response standards are met.
On patients’ families and carers, I understand—my hon. Friends will know better than I do—that there is a joint CCG/local council transport working group. It has been exploring a number of options to make transport easier, including, I understand, the creation of a shuttle service between hospitals in Southend, Basildon and Broomfield. Key to that endeavour will be the volunteers who we spoke about earlier and the expansion of volunteering.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West spoke a little about cancer services, and he will understand that the proposed new model maintains Southend as the specialist cancer centre. He was right to make the point that it meets the two-week standard for GP referrals, and that more than 1,700 patients have been treated this year, but he is equally right to say that the length of waiting times is indeed high. I reassure him that we are absolutely committed, as a Government, to increasing the levels of early diagnosis, and that a comprehensive plan is in place to drive down those waiting times. He is right to have that concern, which I share.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West talked about the new model of stroke provision. He will know that the idea is for people to be seen initially at their local A&E, where thrombolysis treatment will be provided should it be required, and then there will be a transfer to a specialist stroke unit at Basildon, should that be necessary. That will be a clinician-led decision and based on the confirmation of stroke. That hyper-acute stroke unit would give patients, in that critical first 72-hour period, the intensive nursing and therapy support they need to have the best chance of recovery and the best outcomes. Basildon has been selected for the specialist centre because its stroke services are co-located with the vascular, interventional radiology and cardiology teams; it therefore makes sense to have the service there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West raised the issue of the mobile stroke unit, and he is right to say that the trial is ongoing and not yet complete. I join him in thinking that this is really quite an exciting project. I look forward to seeing the results of the trial and the evaluation. We know that the project is separate from the STP, and therefore any decision to locate a permanent mobile stroke unit at Southend will be made at the local level, but I think the national implications of this trial will be exciting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West said that he wanted to hear about future funding and whether there would be any delay. Any funding of course depends on local plans and on clinical support. I was going to read out a quote from Dr Paul Guyler just to reinforce the point that everything that is being done in this area is being led by clinicians, but as my hon. Friend has already made the point that Dr Guyler supports these things—his support is one of the drivers for the change—I will not delay us by reading that aloud. When a decision is made on a clinical basis, the Department and its arm’s length bodies are committed to ensuring that there is the investment available to deliver what is necessary and to make a real difference, but clearly that would depend on the plans and the outcome of the reconfiguration. My hon. Friend knows that I cannot say much about that now; none the less, I give him the commitment that I will speak to officials about this after the debate. If there is more to add at this stage, I will write to him and to my hon. Friends.
In the 30 seconds I have left, I want to say that this has been a short but fascinating debate. It shows that my hon. Friends recognise the contribution of professionals and what Southend Hospital does for their constituents. I appreciate that the potential changes to the local health services inspire impassioned debate—it is right that this is led by clinicians, and that the Government give it proper consideration.
Motion lapsed (