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20.09.17

Concern raised as spending on private ambulances soars by 22% in two years

The NHS spent £78m on private ambulances in 2016-17, which represents a rise of 22% over the past two years, new figures have revealed.

Data collected by the Press Association found that the 10 ambulance trusts spent £64m on private fleets in 2014-15, which went up to £78m by 2016-17.

The private ambulances, which are called in to respond to 999 calls and transport patients to hospitals, have in the past been criticised as their paramedics are often less qualified and their vehicles less well-equipped.

South Central Ambulance Service NHS FT was the highest spender last year – at £16.3m, up from £13.6m last year – with the East of England trust coming in at second place, spending £14m in 2016-17.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, commented that it was concerning that trusts were having to use part of their budget for private ambulances – which highlights the current level of demand emergency departments are facing.

“Ambulances then have to queue outside emergency departments for longer than should be necessary, delaying them from getting back out into the community, and creating a need for private ambulances,” he stated.

Dr Hassan also made reference to a recent report from the CQC which warned that 65% of independent ambulances had been given requirement notices since 2015 – raising “siginficant concerns” about the quality of care offered by these providers.

Labour also argued that the rise in the use of private ambulances was a sign of the “unsustainable demands” which the Tory government was making on struggling emergency departments.

Justin Madders MP, the party’s shadow health minister, said: “A&E pressures are causing queues outside hospitals, while a chronic shortage of paramedics is stretching services even thinner. Across the country ambulance staff are working round the clock to do their best for patients.

“Ministers need to make sure that all ambulance crews, in every part of the country, are properly staffed and resourced. The government should provide funding to get the best outcomes for NHS patients, not spend all this money on private companies.”

But a spokesperson for the Department of Health argued that the ambulance service answers more than 10 million calls every year and that the vast majority of patients get an excellent service.

“Occasionally ambulance trusts use other providers including St John’s Ambulance to help with spikes in demand, and these providers are subject to the same rigorous safety and quality inspections as NHS ambulances,” they added.

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