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20 May 2008 : Column 67WH—continued

I believe, however, that two further proposals have been suggested during the consultation period. One, suggested by Cleveland police, was that the facilities at the control room in Middlesbrough should be extended to make it an independent contact centre. The second was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for
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Stockton, North (Frank Cook), who is not in his place. He suggested that the second contact centre be located in Wynyard. I commend Cleveland police and my hon. Friend on their interest and engagement in the matter, and I believe that both options will be considered by the board alongside all the others.

The NEAS has made it clear that it views its proposals as having been drawn from extensive investigations by independent and nationally recognised industry experts in emergency service control rooms. They are intended to achieve the best possible resilience and an uninterruptible emergency service, and to make the most of technological and medical advances.

The role of the Department of Health and the Secretary of State in local reorganisation is rightly limited. If my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland and others still have concerns once the board’s decision has been made, I advise them to make every effort to resolve them with the NEAS. Should it be necessary, the second course of redress would be to raise concerns with the local authority’s overview and scrutiny committee. If that committee wished to contest the proposals on the basis that the consultation was inadequate or that they were not in the interests of the health service, it could refer the case to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would then ask the independent reconfiguration panel to undertake an initial assessment to determine whether a full review was needed.

I have been reassured by the NEAS that it is keen to avoid redundancies. My hon. Friend mentioned the potential loss of not only jobs but expertise, which is vital to the service. It is keen to avoid any such redundancies, regardless of the board’s decision about the reorganisation of the control rooms. The trust has been in close contact with the unions, and I am assured that it will hold one-to-one interviews with staff to discuss the options available once a decision is known. I encourage the trust to continue to support its staff through the period of change, particularly while waiting for decisions. Once decisions have been made, I encourage it to acknowledge the knowledge and expertise in the area.

Ms Taylor: I wish to put on record the point that if staff from the Tees are moved to the Tyne, they will be asked to increase their day by at least two hours, without pay. That is a totally unacceptable request.

Ann Keen: I take my hon. Friend’s comments seriously, and I shall ask officials to look into that and inform myself and the Minister responsible for the ambulance service. I acknowledge the request that she has made of us.

I recognise that patients and the public feel very strongly about the organisation of ambulance control rooms. As a former nurse who worked in the health service for more than 25 years, I am fully aware of the commitment of our control room staff and ambulance crews and the debt that we owe to such skilled and highly professional people. Understandably, people want to feel secure in the knowledge that the services that they need will be there for them at times of life-threatening emergency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland has outlined the seriousness of what faces us all, including the threat of terrorism,
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particularly to the chemical plants in the area. My understanding is that no decision has been made about where any future control room would be located. The area is important to all of us—including its football team, Middlesbrough. I would be failing in my duty as the chairman of the all-party group on football if I did not give it a mention. I reassure my hon. Friend that rather than compromise the services there, the Government are committed to making services better, not worse, for patients and ambulance staff at every level.

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I note the comments that have been made, and I shall take them back to officials. However, I reinforce my point about the procedure that is open to hon. Members. I hope that the decision to be made by the NEAS board on 22 May will provide a robust ambulance service that meets patients’ needs both in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the north-east. They deserve to have that.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Two o’clock.

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