Where’s Richard Drax?

A new Petition

A new petition was launched this week by campaigners fighting to save the Swanage and Purbeck Ambulance Car. (1)

The petition urges South Dorset MP, Richard Drax, to come forward and support his constituents living in Swanage and Purbeck by intervening on their behalf with the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group and the South West Ambulance Trust.

The Petition asks: Richard Drax – Please help us save our Paramedic Car!

The Petition gained 500 signatures within two days of going on line.

Another Petition already asks the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group not to withdrawn the Car – this Petition has almost 8,000 signatures. (2)

Both Petitions are attracting widespread interest and concern.

A matter of life and death

The Car is a matter of life and death for visitors and residents alike. It provides a rapid response to save life in a medical emergency pending the arrival of an ambulance. A Freedom of Information request showed that in 2019 the Car was called out 996 times to BH 19 postcodes alone (Swanage, Worth Matravers, Studland and Langton) and that more than half of the calls were for Categories 1 – 3, the most serious of medical emergencies. There were on average 35 calls per month where there was risk to life.

The car also supports Purbeck GP Home Visits, treats patients at the scene (saving a journey to hospital in Bournemouth or Dorchester) and provides a replacement service when the Swanage Minor Injuries Unit is closed overnight.

It is no surprise that the community is up in arms over the possible withdrawal of this essential service.

Shops, community venues and cafes across Purbeck are displaying posters urging the retention of the Car. Residents are displaying stickers, flyers and putting up placards in their gardens. Schools and churches are supporting the car.

Swanage Town Council fighting to keep the Car

Swanage Town Council on Monday 15 March 2021 unanimously resolved to “make every effort to prevent the withdrawal of the paramedic car”, and to contact Richard Drax, the Dorset County Council’s People and Health Scrutiny Committee, the South West Ambulance Trust and the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group in order “to secure its retention”.

The Council also agreed, with no Councillor dissenting, to request “a meeting with the South Western Ambulance Service Trust and other interested parties to clarify the costs of maintaining this service and the funding options available.” (3)

Where is Richard Drax?

So why the need for the second Petition, calling specifically upon Richard Drax to step forward and to be his constituents’ champion?

Surely the South Dorset Conservative MP would respond quickly to a request from a Conservative Town Council which was responding to the very real and justified anxieties of its community?

After all, the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group made a minuted commitment to Dorset Council in October 2018 that – given its decision to close Poole Hospital’s A&E and Maternity Departments – Swanage based emergency provision would be fully maintained.

Yet Richard Drax has not yet met with the Council, nor has he fully responded to their fears.

Swanage Town Councillors hear residents’ fears

Swanage Town Councillors, meeting on Monday 26 April 2021, heard the continuing concerns of residents during Public Participation Time.

Residents told Councillors how their loved ones had been saved as a result of the prompt arrival of the Ambulance Car.

George Holden spoke of how his friend Henry, in the final stages of his terminal illness, had received emergency treatment following callouts to the Car.

Later, George said: ‘sharing with the council how the ambulance car had been there for those I love was not easy. I feel it was important in encouraging councillors to engage with the human aspect of such a service”

Councillors express continuing concerns

Conservative Town Councillor and Dorset Councillor Gary Suttle, recalling the deaths of those dear to him, stressed the importance of a quick response in times of medical emergency. He said that Swanage needed not one, but two Ambulance Cars. Residents and visitors alike needed to be safe. As a Dorset Councillor, he would do all he could to ensure this. He would seek an urgent meeting with Richard Drax.

Labour Councillor Debby Monkhouse reminded her fellow Councillors of the need for the retention of the Ambulance Car to be on the table at any meeting of the Council with Richard Drax, Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group and the South West Ambulance Trust.

There was also a need, Councillor Debby Monkhouse said, for details of the costs of the Ambulance Car Service to be provided in full at any meeting. There should be an opportunity to fully discuss all possible funding sources.

Councillor Debby Monkhouse was suspicious of the “Engagement Exercise” which the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group had promised the community about the possible withdrawal of the Car. She recalled the spurious “consultation exercises” held about the merger of Poole and Bournemouth Hospitals. These had been very carefully managed, with a superfluity of glossy PowerPoints.

She reminded Councillors of the loss of Poole A&E and Maternity Departments, and of the loss of a half of the community beds.

South Dorset’s MP was not fighting for his community: he should insist that the retention of the Ambulance Car was on the table at any meeting of the Council with the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group and the South West Ambulance Trust. (4)

South Dorset MP’s record

The South Dorset MP’s record in defending his constituents’ right to accessible health provision in an emergency is open to debate.

Unlike two of his colleagues in the Commons, Simon Hoare, MP for North Dorset, and Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, (5) there is little on record to show what Richard Drax did to save Poole Hospital from merger with Bournemouth Hospital.

The evidence presented at the Judicial Review and Appeal by health campaigners made clear the fact that travel times in an emergency from Swanage to Bournemouth would exceed the “Golden Hour”.

Over 50,000 people signed petitions against the merger.

Richard Drax was largely conspicuous by his absence from the passionate debate that took place over the wisdom or otherwise of the decision to merge the two hospitals. Nor has he intervened to support the suggestion of the Independent Review Panel that an “A&E Local” be established at Poole Hospital. He has also not lent his weight to the suggestion made by the Panel that the Clinical Commissioning Group consult more with the community.

Wareham Town Council expressing concern

Wareham Town Council is now considering a resolution very similar to that passed unanimously by Swanage Town Council: that the removal of the Ambulance Car “would be a threat to the lives of local people”, and that the Council “will make every effort to prevent the withdrawal of the Paramedic Car and will urgently contact the MP for South Dorset, the MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Dorset Council’s People and Health Scrutiny Committee, South West Ambulance Services Trust and Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group to secure its retention.” (6)

Best of luck!

Swanage Town Councillors might well be forgiven in wishing their Wareham colleagues the best of luck with this resolution. It may well be, however, that they receive more support from their MP, Mr Michael Tomlinson than Swanage Town Councillors have thus far from Richard Drax.


1 https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/richard-drax-mp-please-help-us-save-our-paramedic-car

2 https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-swanage-ambulance-car

3 https://www.swanage.gov.uk/userfiles/file/Minutes/Minutes-March%202021.pdf

4 Notes taken during the Meeting

5 To prevent the closure of community hospital beds in Shaftesbury, Simon Hoare MP for North Dorset wrote an open letter to Tim Goodson, the DCCG CE https://www.ndca.org.uk/news/westminster-memorial-hospital-shaftesbury

To help save the A&E at Southend Hospital, Sir David Amess MP made statements to the press: https://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15302191.sir-david-pledges-to-fight-ae-downgrade/

6 https://www.wareham-tc.gov.uk/_UserFiles/Files/_Agendas/123097-20210505_Annual_Town_Council_Agenda_Pack.pdf