Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Norfolk and Suffolk MPs jumped to the defence of health minister Norman Lamb after he was attacked over the East of England Ambulance Service Trust shortcomings by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.
“For many years, residents in rural Norfolk and Suffolk haven’t been receiving the level of ambulance service they deserve. Because of pressure from me and other Norfolk and Suffolk MPs, two years ago the CQC finally carried out a detailed inspection of the East of England Ambulance Trust, highlighting significant failings in response times and patient care. Since then, a report has been produced by Dr Anthony Marsh setting out clear steps for delivering the improvements we need, and Trust has recruited a strong new leadership team including Dr Marsh himself, who ran one of the most successful ambulance trusts in the country.
“Andy Burnham and previous Labour health ministers have a great deal to answer for, including the crippling PFI contract which gave vast profits to private sector investors, and was described by the Public Accounts Select Committee as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital has now managed to reduce handover delays from 1400 patients waiting over an hour last winter, to only nine so far this year. And the East of England Ambulance Trust has committed to recruiting 400 new student paramedics, to ensure it has the frontline staff it needs to deliver a good service for the future.
“As Care Minister, I am anything but complacent about health services in England. I am absolutely committed to tackling the increasing fragmentation that took place in the NHS under Labour, building a more integrated health and care system that is designed around the needs of patients, not organisations. And only this week the Government’s Care Bill completed a key step towards the statute books, finally fixing a care system that Andy Burnham himself described in 2010 as an ‘area that had not been properly reformed and was one of great unfairness’.
“But Labour’s comments yesterday were not just unjustified. They also indicate everything that was wrong with the culture of cover-ups and denial that persisted in parts of the NHS under the previous government. My job as health minister is to always put patients first, hold public services to account, and challenge when they are not good enough. I will never apologise for doing so.”
During a heated House of Commons debate the Labour minister accused Mr Lamb of complacency over Accident and Emergency department delays, mocking the Norfolk minister for campaigning on ambulances while he was in the department responsible.
Mr Lamb claimed delays in hand overs at Accident and Emergency departments were “not acceptable”, but said ambulances had been stacking up at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital under a Labour government, and delays of 30 minutes were down by more than 30pc on last year.
During the debate called by Labour, Mr Burnham said ambulance response times had increased across the country because crews were unable to hand over patients at full Accident and Emergency Departments.
“That has left large swathes of the country—particularly in rural areas—without adequate ambulance cover, and very serious incidents have taken place across the country,” he said.
He added: “We have been looking at the minister’s website, which makes us wonder whether he considers himself a Minister or an observer of events in the NHS. Under the headline “Norman Lamb’s North Norfolk Ambulance Survey” he states: ‘I have been campaigning over the last year to improve unacceptable ambulance response times in rural Norfolk’. My God, this is the Minister! He is campaigning against his own Government.”
Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman told Mr Burnham that the Norfolk MPs were “on the case” with Mr Lamb “leading the charge”, accusing the former health secretary of an “unfair, ill-judged and overly partisan” attack.
While Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said the regions MPs had worked together to hold the ambulance service to account and had managed to get the entire board replaced.
“That was a very difficult thing to do, especially when were at times accused of attacking and undermining the NHS whereas in fact, far from showing complacency, individual MPs were working together to make sure that patients came first, not some artificial target that was bad for patients.”