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Column 136Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Moonie, Dr Lewis
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Reid, Dr John
Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Wareing, Robert N
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. John Spellar and
Mr. Jim Dowd.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of--
(a) any expenses incurred by a Minister of the Crown in consequence of that Act ; and
(b) any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other enactment.
That, notwithstanding the Order [29th November] relating to committal, Standing Committee A be discharged from considering any new Clause or new Schedule relating to the employment of shop workers in respect of the Sunday Trading Bill and that any such new Clause or new Schedule be committed to a Committee of the whole House.-- [Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
That Mr. James Clappison be discharged from the Health Committee and Mr. Iain Duncan Smith be added to the Committee.-- [Sir Fergus Montgomery, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : I welcome and am grateful for this opportunity to raise a most pressing matter for the people of north Staffordshire. It is the issue of why the non-emergency patient transport services contract has been let unfairly and in such a way that not only will the current level of provision for the people of north Staffordshire be cut, but the entire ambulance service in Staffordshire will be undermined, including accident and emergency, and our excellent trauma centre.
It is a bit like a "Casualty" script. I first learned of the position just before Christmas, when a constituent wrote to me : "It not only degrades our jobs--which we do with pride and dignity--but also degrades the National Health Service for which our fathers and forefathers fought hard and long."
Along with other hon. Members representing north Staffordshire, who are present this evening, I have gone into the matter in considerable detail. We have met ambulance workers in Kidsgrove and Stoke ; we have tabled an early-day motion ; we have raised the matter in business questions ; we have met the leader of Stoke-on-Trent city council, and members of the community health council ; we have met representatives of North Staffordshire district health authority and the West Midlands ambulance trust.
We have met Staffordshire people who are worried about the future of our ambulance service. Last Thursday, we accompanied ambulance workers who had come down--in their ambulance--to present the Prime Minister with a petition bearing thousands of signatures. I raised the matter in a debate on waste and bureaucracy in the national health service, while eight workers lobbied Parliament in an attempt to retain the present level of ambulance work in Staffordshire. So far, however, all that has been to no avail. That is why I particularly welcome this opportunity to put the details of the case to the Minister, together with my colleagues from north Staffordshire.
Last week, Parliament was lobbied by eight of the lowest-paid workers. They simply want to continue providing the level of service that they currently provide, and to keep their jobs without having their wages cut from £4.86 an hour to £3.26. That says it all. They care--not just about their jobs, but about the people who depend on their service. They do not want that service to be cut.
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Does not the crazy system of tendering on which the Government insist have one inevitable result? It drives down pay and conditions, and in this instance it will lead to a reduction in the excellent service that Staffordshire ambulance people have provided until now.
Ms Walley : Absolutely : my hon. Friend has put it in a nutshell. I hope that the Minister will take full account of what has been said. It has been pointed out that the ambulance workers could end up earning nothing at all, because pay rates will be cut more and more. Why on earth, for the sake of market forces dogma, should any Government in their
Column 138right mind risk dismantling a quality ambulance service like ours in Staffordshire, which has been built up over the years by local people?
Has the Minister taken the trouble to visit Staffordshire and see the high standard of work for himself--and, equally important, the current level of service? Who was invited by the Secretary of State to advise the Department of Health on quality service? Why did the Department turn to Staffordshire for advice if it does not recognise Staffordshire's excellent standards?
Is the Minister aware that the Staffordshire ambulance trust prides itself on its training, its progressive career structure for both men and women and the interrelationship between non-emergency and accident and emergency services, which complement each other? When we met the chairman of North Staffordshire district health authority, he expressed his concern about the possible implications for Staffordshire's accident and emergency services.
Why is not just the non-emergency but the accident and emergency service now under threat? Is it now deliberate Government policy to subject every part of the national health service to compulsory competitive tendering, or are there certain aspects, such as clinical services, which the Government can guarantee will not be privatised? Will the Minister give me an undertaking that in Staffordshire the accident and emergency contracts will not be put out to tender? Where does the Minister draw the line? There is a very thin dividing line between accident and emergency work and non- emergency work, and we need to be aware of where that line is. That is why what is being done to the Staffordshire ambulance service is so important for the rest of the country, not just for people in Staffordshire. I deal now with the details of the decision taken by the North Staffordshire hospital trust and the North Staffordshire district health authority, as the shadow combined health care trust was when the tendering process first began, to award the patient transport services contract to the West Midlands ambulance trust.
The decision means that the Staffordshire ambulance trust, which provides the service now and which also competed for the tender, is having to make redundant 72 of the most dedicated, hard-working and loyal staff anywhere in the country. I and my constituents know that. There is a sense of farce about every non-emergency worker being made redundant and 42 of the 72 being re-employed on reduced pay. It could be said that the issue is entirely a matter for the trade unions, and that that which relates to employment legislation is a matter for Unison. I agree, and I hope that Unison, in which I have a declared interest, will be able to proceed with a legal challenge so that the transfer of undertakings safeguards, so reluctantly incorporated in last year's employment legislation, would apply. That, however, is not my concern now. My concern now is one of accountability and the way in which the specification for the patient contract service has been drawn up, handled and upheld by what I can only call bungling bureaucrats.
We should at least let the Minister satisfy himself that the patient transfer service contract has been market-tested fairly. Let him give us an assurance--later, if necessary, and at a separate meeting in Richmond house, if necessary--that what has been done was not in breach of NHS guidance, his own NHS guidance, which was modified only as recently as last November.
Column 139I believe that, once the Minister has had the opportunity to examine in detail exactly what has happened, he will not come to any conclusion other than that the contract will have to be drawn up again.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : Does my hon. Friend share my concern, which I hope the Minister will share, that, as the new trust is getting rid of the ambulance stations, ambulance staff will be required to take home their ambulances and park them outside their houses at night? They will have to take personal responsibility for their safety and care. If the ambulances are damaged, the staff will be personally responsible for any excess on the insurance policies. It seems an extraordinary element of a contract. I hope that the Minister will agree with my hon. Friend, our colleagues and me that it is not standard practice in the national health service, and is in breach of various staff conditions and assurances.
Ms Walley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. In our discussions with ambulance workers, it has been clear that it is expected that, on certain days, it will be necessary for workers to take their ambulances home with them after 8 pm.
When that was mentioned on BBC Radio Stoke, it caused an uproar among people listening to the radio. Like us, our constituents understand that, if an ambulance is parked outside someone's home at the moment, when there is an awful lot of car theft, there may be ambulance theft. What will happen on cold mornings or cold nights when it is not possible to start the ambulance because it has not been properly kept and maintained in a depot?
When we saw the new contract of employment, and when we had discussed it with the West Midlands ambulance trust, we were not satisfied with it. I do not think that the Minister can have any confidence that the new contract that has been drawn up will satisfactorily provide the patient services contract in north Staffordshire.
What has happened is lengthy, complex and technical. I know that the Minister comes from Bolton ; like us, Bolton has a very good football team, although in Stoke-on-Trent we have two very good football teams. I am sure that he knows all about fair play, because he is a football supporter. I would like to ask him this evening about fair play.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why the EC services directive, which came into force on 1 July, does not apply in our case? Why do the Treasury guidance notes to that directive suggest otherwise? Does the Minister agree or disagree with the Treasury? Not everyone can get away with not following Treasury guidelines. Why does the regional health authority appear to be at odds with the Treasury? Why is it that the guidance notes updating those of June 1993, "Competing for Quality", endorsed by the Management Executive, have not been applied? How can there be any accountability when the Minister approves rules and regulations but they are not followed by the west midlands region and then the regional health authority and management outpost, acting as arbiter, say that the rules did not apply anyway?