HC Deb 13 February 1996 vol 271 cc792-3
6. Mr. Sheerman

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to increase the speed at which those who suffer a cardiac arrest receive treatment. [13309]

Mr. Malone

The Department will continue to work with the national health service to find ways of speeding the delivery of treatment to patients.

Mr. Sheerman

What kind of national health service is it when a man collapses with a heart attack in the centre of one of our major cities, is refused by 12 or 14 hospitals, and has to be helicoptered to a far-off town to receive treatment? That is not an isolated incident, because, as the Minister knows, there is a lack of slack—that is what the British Medical Association calls it. There are not enough intensive care beds to deal with that kind of emergency, and there are not enough nurses to support the intensive care units. Last week's decision to give nurses a measly 2 per cent. will not help recruit many more.

Mr. Malone

I beg to differ from the hon. Gentleman. That incident was isolated, but important. Isolated incidents are vital for those involved, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman will meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 23 February to discuss that matter. Intensive care has grown rapidly in recent years, and the number of intensive care beds has risen by 100 since 1989. The number of nurses working in intensive care has increased by more than 1,000 since 1990. Other bodies of work are being undertaken by the Department of Health that will show us how we can better use the intensive care facilities that we have.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Will my hon. Friend send congratulations to the Lancashire Ambulance Service NHS trust, which I visited last year? It has invested a vast sum of money in a sophisticated tracking system so that it can deploy ambulances around that large county to ensure that they get to those patients who need ambulances most urgently.

Mr. Malone

Yes, I am happy to do that. My hon. Friend raises an important point about the need to provide care as quickly as possible to people who suffer from cardiac problems. Some of the essential components include improving response times—that is happening, as my hon. Friend points out—and putting paramedics in ambulance teams. The whole question of the provision of emergency care outwith the context of an acute hospital is being considered by the chief medical officer, who will report to Ministers in due course.

Ms Eagle

If there are no beds to receive patients, it does not matter how good the ambulance service is, because there is nowhere for the patients to go. Is not the difficulty that, since the NHS has been run as a business, new, lean-production techniques have abolished all the spare beds, so there is no capacity if sudden accidents or emergencies arise? Is not that the basic problem that is now emerging in our health service?

Mr. Malone

It is rather bizarre that the hon. Lady makes that point in the context of the number of intensive care beds rising steadily in recent years. She makes a false point. Much of the work that has to be done is to make better use of the facilities that are available. For example, following the Wells report, procedures have been set up to share intensive care beds in London. Sensible use of existing facilities can improve performance in an expanding service.