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The London Ambulance Crisis: Bottomley condemns 'catalogue of errors'

VIRGINIA BOTTOMLEY, Secretary of State for Health, condemned the 'catalogue of errors' the report reveals, but ducked Labour demands that ministers should resign over the affair.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, concentrated his call for a resignation on Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary of State for Health responsible for ambulance services. Just five days before the computer crashed, Mr Blunkett said, Mr Sackville had told MPs the problems were 'behavioural rather than technical' and that an inquiry into the service would serve no purpose.

Ministers had 'swept aside' repeated warnings from London MPs about the service dating back to April 1991, Mr Blunkett said. There had been a failure by ministers 'to oversee adequately what is directly within their responsibility'.

Mrs Bottomley said she was 'very concerned that messages within the service' had not been 'properly reflected up the line' but Liz Lynne, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, accused Mrs Bottomley of evading her question of when she first knew of potential problems with the system.

Mrs Bottomley said there had been 'significant improvements' since the autumn, although response times remained 'well below the levels' achieved in other big cities. She condemned as 'irresponsible scaremongering' claims at the time that the delays had caused deaths, saying no coroner's court had made that finding. But she was told by Richard Ottaway, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, that despite that, 'large question marks' remained.

Nigel Spearing, Labour MP for Newham South, said that in April 1991 he had spelt out in an adjournment debate the crisis in the ambulance service that yesterday's report had confirmed, but ministers had refused to listen.