Every trust in England uses private providers for 999 calls
THE NHS has forked out almost £80 million on private ambulances in the last two years, a rise of a fifth.
The findings published today also show that all 10 ambulance trusts across the country are using private firms to help them answer 999 calls and transport people to hospital.
Some trusts are so desperate they are even having to bring in agency paramedics, according to the figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request.
The responses revealed that in 2016/17 the NHS spent £78.3m on private ambulances compared with £64.2m spent in 2014/5. South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust spent the most in 2016/17: £16.3m.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s president Dr Taj Hassan said: “It is concerning that trusts are having to use part of their budget for private ambulances and serves to highlight the current levels of demand emergency departments are facing.
“Under-resourced departments are struggling with overcrowding and ‘exit block,’ when patients cannot be moved in a timely manner to a ward.
“This means patients are waiting longer to be seen and ambulances cannot offload patients quickly because there is simply no room for them.
“Ambulances then have to queue outside emergency departments for longer, delaying them from getting back out into the community and creating a need for private ambulances.”
He also expressed concern about the quality of training offered by private firms. “The Care Quality Commission has previously highlighted that they may use less-qualified staff,” he said.
Unison national ambulance officer Alan Lofthouse said: “The huge sums spent on private ambulance services expose the pressures on staff due to soaring demand.”
He said patient safety and the wellbeing of crews was at risk.
“The money would be better spent training new staff and holding on to existing ones,” Mr Lofthouse said.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Occasionally, ambulance trusts use other providers including St John Ambulance to help with spikes in demand and these providers are subject to the same rigorous safety and quality inspections as NHS ambulances.”
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “The rise in the use of private ambulances is a sign of the unsustainable demands which this Conservative government is making on the NHS.
“The government should provide funding to get the best outcomes for NHS patients, not spend all this money on private companies.”