In an impassioned debate in the House of Commons last night (Tuesday 8th
February), Michael Fabricant begged the Government to keep the
Staffordshire Ambulance Service and not merge it into a regional service
which would cost lives. Michael Fabricant says: "The Staffordshire
Ambulance Service has far faster response times to 999 calls than any
other ambulance service in Europe reaching serious emergencies within 8
minutes 85% of the time. The West Midlands service is far slower to
respond – only reaching patients within 8 minutes 46% of the time – and
the merged East Midlands Service on which the proposed merger will be
based is slower still. They reach patients within 8 minutes only 27% of
the time. Is that what the Government wants for Staffordshire? Lives
will be lost if this merger is forced through. I beg the Government not
to do this. There will be blood on the Government’s hands if this
merger goes ahead."
The Minister for Health, Jane Kennedy, gave the game away that police
mergers and ambulance mergers are being driven by regional policy when
she said in her opening remarks:
"Ambulance trusts and Strategic Health Authorities are likely to see
their boundaries much more closely aligned with those of the Government
offices for the regions."
Michael says: "The Government’s policy should be driven by providing
the best possible health and police services for our citizens and not by
an obsession with conforming to Europe’s policy of basing services on
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr.
Jenkins) said that he has no objection to his Primary Care Trusts
merging, as long as it provides a better service, but he is concerned
about the criteria for such mergers. I agree with him.
But I am not here tonight to talk about the South Staffordshire PCT; I
am here to talk about the merger of the Staffordshire ambulance service.
A few months ago, a friend of mine, a youngish guy, went jogging round
Whittington, a village in my constituency. He felt sick. He did not know
what was wrong with him. He went home, took a shower and started feeling
worse. He went downstairs and suddenly thought, "There’s something
seriously wrong." He dialled 999 and then collapsed.
All Staffordshire ambulance service staff are paramedics; in fact, the
service was the first in the United Kingdom to employ paramedics. The
ambulances are strategically placed, controlled by global positioning
system satellites, which Staffordshire was also the first to introduce.
So the ambulance arrived within five minutes, and the paramedics
defibrillated my friend. They gave him an injection of decoagulants and
he was taken to Burton hospital; he survived. If that had happened in
the west midlands, he would undoubtedly have died. The simple fact is
that the response times in the west midlands are far worse than those in
Staffordshire. In fact, Staffordshire enjoys the fastest response times
not just in the United Kingdom but in the whole European Union.
Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman
Michael Fabricant: I will give way to a fellow Staffordshire Member of
Mr. Flello: Will the hon. Gentleman mention also that, of all the
ambulance services, Staffordshire probably uses the most anticoagulant
drugs to good effect?
Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In fact, the
service’s use of those drugs is beyond the normal clinical protocols for
the national ambulance services. Staffordshire ambulance service can
also provide angioplasty, and through cardiac enzyme testing, which is
generally not available elsewhere, it can manage patients with chest
pain who are not transported to hospital. There is even a cooling
protocol for those with post-cardiac arrest, to stop brain damage and
other tissue damage. That is unique, yet the Government, either
wittingly or unwittingly, are to destroy it.
The response to life-threatening emergencies within eight minutes in
Staffordshire is a staggering 88 per cent. The NHS average is only 75
per cent. In the east midlands, where there has been a merged ambulance
service, it is only 75 per cent. These are Department of Health figures.
For category B, which are serious emergency call-outs, in Staffordshire
the response is within eight minutes 85 per cent. of the time. In the
west midlands it is only 46 per cent. of the time, and in the east
midlands, the model for a regional system of ambulance services, it is
only 27 per cent. of the time. Any doctor will tell you that time is
life. There is a golden period in which, perhaps, someone can be rescued
from death. The Staffordshire ambulance service succeeds in that while
other ambulance services fail.
I suspect that the Minister will say that, if Staffordshire ambulance
service is merged with the west midlands, standards throughout will be
raised. I do not think so, and nor does the board of the Staffordshire
ambulance service. Members of the board say:
"Our concerns are that there is little, if anything, in the documents to
explain how high performance will be protected.
Staffordshire consistently responds quicker, saves more lives from
cardiac arrest and heart attacks and operates a cheaper response to
Discussions within the West Midlands region lead us to feel more, not
less, alarmed at the prospects of standards falling, and of lives being
lost which otherwise would have been saved."
All of us as Members of Parliament have a duty of care to our
constituents. What can be more important than standing up in this House
and trying to do something to stop the unnecessary loss of our
Amazingly, it is estimated that, if other ambulance services adopted the
practice of the Staffordshire ambulance service, some 3,000 extra lives
a year in the United Kingdom could be saved.
Yet, are the Government saying, "Yes, we will preserve the Staffordshire
ambulance service and we will use its protocols across other services"?
No, they are not.
The Minister gave it away in her introductory speech. She said that the
object of the exercise is to provide a regional-based system-but why? If
it were a regional-based system that could improve response times, that
would be fine by me. I would not care if a regional system were best. If
it were larger than a region, that would be fine. I am interested in
only one thing, and that is a better service for my constituents. What
is clear from looking at the east midlands model and from listening to
the professionals in Staffordshire and, indeed, in Birmingham and the
west midlands as a whole, is that the fine, high standards maintained in
Staffordshire would be lost, and that that would result in lives being
lost in Staffordshire and elsewhere.
The irony is that the Government may be concerned solely with saving
money, but Staffordshire ambulance service is the most cost-effective
service in the country. It says:
"To our knowledge, there are no services of the proposed size anywhere
in the world that achieve high performance"
as the Staffordshire ambulance service does. We should be rejoicing in
this Chamber; the Minister should be saying, "We are proud as a
Government that we have achieved that in Staffordshire, and we want to
repeat it elsewhere."
The Staffordshire ambulance service goes on to say:
"We would argue that the creation of eleven regional services is not
only a step too far, too soon, but a barrier to high performance."
The figures are clear; the lives saved are indisputable. If the
Staffordshire ambulance service is merged with the west midlands, lives
will be lost. They will be unnecessarily lost and this Government will
be to blame.
At the end of the debate, the Health Minister, Liam Byrne (a Birmingham
Mr. Byrne: Turning to the west midlands, the hon. Member for Lichfield
(Michael Fabricant) made a powerful and persuasive case in which he
underlined and celebrated the achievements of Staffordshire ambulance
from which many in the country could learn. He was, perhaps, over-hasty
in writing off the performance of the rest of the west midlands, but
there is a clear message that we should take from his remarks, and it
was underlined by my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme
(Paul Farrelly) and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello): there must
be localisation of control. Surely the question in this consultation,
though, is how we export that excellence, not just to other parts of the
west midlands but to other parts of the country, and how we ensure that
Staffordshire gets better in future. Surely it has not reached its full