Yesterday I was grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate around the Covid-19 Public Health Regulations, and raise the issue of the crisis facing the Ambulance Service.
You can watch my speech here: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/50819052-b299-4c6b-b135-036382b25b43?in=17:16:47&out=17:20:01
Please find below my speech as written.
I am grateful to be able to speak in today’s debate. I start by extending my deepest sympathy to my staff member, Ruzina, who today lost her mother to coronavirus. Words cannot describe the devastation that this virus has caused to so many.
There are so many concerns that I have about the impact of the Government’s handling of this pandemic, and there are too many pressing issues in Lewisham East to mention, but today, I would like to raise the crisis facing our ambulance services. I have been speaking with a constituent of mine, Mr Clive Tombs, who is a technician in the London ambulance service. Mr Tombs told me of the sheer stress levels that he and his colleagues are experiencing. As the secretary of his branch of the GMB union, Mr Tombs speaks not just for himself, but for thousands of members serving the capital.
Staff sickness in the ambulance service is at an all-time high. Mr Tombs estimates that vast numbers of staff are off sick, the majority with Covid-19. He has lost colleagues to the virus and other colleagues are hospitalised. Many others are understandably suffering from declining mental health after seeing the very worst of the impact of this virus and the impact which it is having on our people. Post-traumatic stress disorder is also becoming commonplace.
Phone operators are having to play God in choosing who among the hundreds of callers will get an ambulance. Mr Tombs also speaks of the relentless shifts that those in the ambulance profession are working. Those on the frontline are working 12, 13 and sometimes 14-hour-long shifts, and all too often, they do not get a rest or a break before starting their next demanding shift. We cannot expect our ambulance service to work all hours of the day and night, providing high-quality care, thinking quickly, making smart decisions and putting themselves in danger, without having enough time to rest. I would be grateful to hear from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on this issue.
Many of us have been distressed by images over the Christmas period of ambulances piling up outside hospitals, particularly in London. Every one of those ambulances has someone who is in urgent need of medical care and, for some of them, their lives depend on it. A&E departments are not able to keep up with the level of demand, so ambulances, with patients in them, have to wait for hours upon hours—up to 11 hours, Mr Tombs says.
They wait on trolleys that provide them with little comfort and are meant only for short use. Staff sit with them in vehicles but struggle to provide safe ventilation in the cold weather. There is no access to a toilet or a washbasin in an ambulance. None of us would like to imagine our parents, partners, elderly neighbours or loved ones suffering on an ambulance trolley waiting to be admitted.
What’s more, Mr Speaker, is that these critical care workers, providing a service our public health depends on, are not being reached by the vaccine. Mr Tombs tells me that not a single staff member in the South East London Ambulance Service has received a vaccine so far. I would appreciate knowing what work is underway to prioritise these workers for the vaccine?
So, Mr Speaker, in the interests of both staff and patients, the Health Secretary must rise to the need of the crisis in the Ambulance Service, to ensure those staff are cared for, and can continue to do their brave and essential work.