Michael Fabricant raised the question of the merger between the
Staffordshire and the West Midlands Ambulance Services with Tony Blair
at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday. (Wednesday 28th February).
There follows below the report of the exchange as recorded in Hansard
together with Michael Fabricant’s reactions and what he will do next.
West Midlands/Staffordshire Ambulance Services
Q5.  Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If he will make a
statement on the proposed merger of the West Midlands and Staffordshire
The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for
Health announced on 16 May, the intention is that Staffordshire
Ambulance Service NHS Trust and the West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS
Trust should work together to prepare for a merger. A timetable has not
been set for the merger, but a partnership board has been established to
take forward work relating to it.
Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer.
He might know that in fact a merger is now being proposed. The Health
Secretary gave assurances to Staffordshire Members of Parliament that
there would be no merger until the West Midlands trust had reached the
same high standard as Staffordshire. However, if, God forbid, one was to
have a cardiac arrest in Staffordshire, one would have a 60 per cent.
chance of recovery, whereas in the west midlands one would have a 65 per
cent. chance of dying. The standard has not yet been reached, yet a
merger is still being proposed. What can the Prime Minister say to
people in Staffordshire to assure them that our ambulance service will
not be degraded through that merger?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable
point. Obviously, the terms of the merger are extremely important.
Within the past few days, the partnership board chairman has said:
"the whole process is about levelling up performance.
Staffordshire leads the country in certain areas"
I think that he was talking about the idea of the return of spontaneous
and it is the task of the West Midlands Trust to bring
its performance up to those levels."
In other words, this is clearly about the West Midlands trust coming up
to the very high standard that has been set by Staffordshire, not the
other way round.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Is it not the case
that even after any merger Staffordshire Ambulance Service will remain
an autonomous locality, operating to the same methods and standards as
at present, including using the LUCAS device, which aids resuscitation,
and its pioneering system status management, which has put Staffordshire
Ambulance Service at the top of the national ambulance tables for eight
years? As my right hon. Friend says, this is about levelling performance
up, not down.
The Prime Minister: I assure my hon. Friend that that is precisely what
it is about. She is absolutely right in saying that the purpose is to
get the synergy that is there from the merger, but at the same time to
lift the standard of West Midlands up to that of Staffordshire. She is
also right in saying that the location issue will be very important and
has been properly dealt with. In addition, thanks to the investment that
we are putting in, Staffordshire PCT has had an increase in funding of
about 20 per cent., which will help the ambulance service to maintain
its very high standards.
Michael Fabricant now says: "I am not totally reassured by the Prime
Minister’s answer as we need to seek further clarification. Tony Blair
clearly recognises that the West Midlands Ambulance Service needs to be
raised to the standard of that of Staffordshire’s, but is he saying that
it should happen BEFORE any merger can take place? If he is, I will be
delighted and would be happy to support a future merger. I will be
contacting 10 Downing Street to seek that assurance. I will also be
writing to the Staffordshire and West Midlands Ambulance Services for
their view on the Prime Minister’s comments and how they now plan to
take matters forward.