I have come directly from the debate in the House of Commons on ambulance resources and response times.
I requested this debate following the tragic case of Mr William Gouldburn, who died in April last year and who had had to wait for two hours for an ambulance.
I was pleased as a sign of respect for Mr Gouldburn and his family that every single MP who attended the Parliamentary debate paid tribute to him.
At Mr Gouldburn’s inquest, a manager for the North East Ambulance Service said that the service had been experiencing a high level of calls, and that ambulances were delayed in admitting patients to North Durham hospital due to a lack of available beds.
The ambulance manager was asked by the coroner at Mr Gouldburn’s inquest: “Is what I’m hearing you don’t have resources to meet demand?” The manager replied by stating: “Yes, that’s correct. It is a national problem.” In the debate I raised a number of issues and questions to the Minister.
Demand for ambulance resources is rising – since 2010, the number of emergency calls taken by ambulance services across England has risen by about 12 per cent, and in the North East it has actually gone up slightly more than that.
But there has been a cut in resources for the North East Ambulance Service – it was required by Government to cut from its budget nearly £5 million in 2012/13, about a five per cent cut, with another £4.5 million in 2013/14.
Rising demand and reducing resources can only really have one consequence, and that’s deteriorating response times. In the last two years, ambulance response times to emergencies have fallen in 7 of the 11 ambulance areas.
The national average is now below the target for response times. In the North- East, the average response time has gone from 5 minutes 16 seconds t0 5 minutes 48 seconds last year.
In the debate, I asked three broad questions. Would the Minister commit to more resources for ambulance services in Hartlepool, the North East and across to meet
rising demand? Would she accept that the triage system, in which questions about a patient’s condition are asked to assess their priority, often does not work?
More needs to be done to deal with that. And does she believe that centralisation of health services, of which Hartlepool knows only too well, will have a negative impact on handover times between ambulance crews and hospital staff, because ambulances are having to queue up outside fewer and fewer A&E centres. I asked if the Minister would look more closely at the link between centralisation and handover times. I am afraid that I wasn’t happy with the Minister’s response. It wasn’t as if she was rude – that would be wrong to say – but she was complacent and gave the impression, despite the cases told to her by other MPs and myself, of “crisis – what crisis?”
I will be meeting with fellow North Eastern MPS to work to ensure that this issue is addressed. Resources are not matching demand and response times are worsening.
I want the Minister to act to ensure that we have in Hartlepool, the North East and across England an ambulance provision which meets demand and is the best service in the world.