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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I am delighted to have been able to catch your eye, Mr.   Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to Radio Gloucestershire for alerting me to a matter concerning the merger of the Gloucestershire, Avon and Wiltshire ambulance services, which was put out to consultation by the Government and put to consultants by the strategic health authority. I am told that there is to be a meeting tomorrow morning in the Forest of Dean. This will be the first public meeting to review the consultants' recommendation that a full-blown merger should take place. That recommendation is causing great anxiety to my constituents and to the people of Gloucestershire.

I held an Adjournment debate on this subject in Westminster Hall on 9 February 2005, and the then Minister who responded to it—the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman)—said:

I wish that that were true. It was quite clear from the tone of the Minister's reply to my debate, and from my meeting with the chief executive of the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire strategic health authority, that the Government and the SHA had already embarked on a course of action that would lead to a full-blown merger of the three ambulance trusts.

I believe that this exercise is all about improving the efficiency of the Avon ambulance trust in particular. Gloucestershire is a two-star trust; the Avon and Wiltshire trusts have no stars at all. I believe that this is about trying to bring those two services up to the standard of the Gloucestershire service. At the end of his speech, the Minister also said:

that is, merging the management—

I believe, however, that the Government had already embarked on an agenda that would lead to a merger.

That is particularly stupid because, 18 months ago, the Government initiated a project involving a tri-service site in Quedgeley, just outside Gloucester. This involved having the police, the fire service and the ambulance service all on the same site, at a cost of £6.3 million. If this proposal goes through, that site is likely to be scrapped. So £6.3 million of public money will have been completely wasted. This follows the Government's decision to regionalise the fire service; we already know that the fire service is being taken away from the site.
 
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I should like to illustrate the fact that my constituents feel that this proposal is putting their lives at risk. I know that we are always urged not to use pejorative language in the Chamber, but I believe that my constituents' lives could well be put at risk by the proposal. In the short time available to me, I should like to quote a report from The Citizen in Gloucester.

that is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper)—

I hope that I have pronounced his name right—

the Gloucester Royal hospital.

The point of quoting that story is that local ambulance trusts know the local area backwards. They know exactly the best routes to get people to hospital.

If the merger takes place, the organisation will be based in Bristol. It will look after 2.2 million people, rather than 500,000 people at present. I do not believe that the same local knowledge will be employed. There is also a further fear that if the number of ambulances in rural areas is cut and a paramedic in a car is sent instead, that will not be the same as a full team of ambulance drivers arriving to help somebody with a possible cardiac arrest and able to help them in difficult circumstances.

I should like to emphasise how good the Gloucestershire Ambulance Service NHS Trust is by quoting from a speech that I made on 9 February:

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That is an enormous tribute to the people who work in the Gloucestershire Ambulance Service NHS Trust and other brigades, who drive ambulances in often difficult conditions.

There is a further twist in the argument. We are having great difficulty in Gloucestershire with the out-of-hours service at night and at weekends. I have already had a constituency case in which somebody has died because they have not been admitted to hospital in time. There is no doubt that given the problems with the out-of-hours and weekend service, more and more people will rely on a swift and efficient ambulance service. I believe that the only reason for this merger is financial. That is an appalling way to run our national health service. My constituents want to be reassured that at some of the most difficult times that we may unfortunately have to face we can get an ambulance fast and efficiently. The drivers and ambulances in Gloucestershire currently provide that service, and there is great and deep unease about the Government's proposals.

5.17 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) made a powerful contribution to the debate, and I hope that his campaign is successful.

We have had a wide-ranging debate. It has been a debate of two halves. In the first half, we heard a series of maiden speeches from new Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members, and indeed from a new Scottish National party Member, which were of the highest quality. We will all take away from the debate the view that the House will be all the richer for the people who have arrived to serve in it during this Parliament. In the second half of the debate, the contributions from Government Members have been sparse, with a hint of filler in the afternoon's proceedings. One interesting feature of proceedings since our return after the election is that, day after day and in debate after debate, the   Government Benches have been empty. The Government have not had enough speakers to keep the debate going. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) said at the start of his speech that he had hoped to make a contribution during the debate on the Queen's Speech, but had been unable to do so. He clearly missed the two days when the debate finished early and collapsed because of a lack of Government Members who wished to speak. If he had been here, he would have had more than enough time to contribute to the debate.


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