NHS shells out ‘£92m on private ambulances and taxis’

27 Aug 19

Ambulance trusts in England spent more than £92m on private ambulances and taxis in the last financial year, analysis has shown.

The Press Association examined freedom of information data and found that private ambulances were sent to 5% of all 999 incidents in 2018-19 – up from 2.6% the year before. This equates to 26,428 incidents compared to 12,947 the previous year.

The data, collected from the 10 ambulance trusts in England, found that total spend on private ambulances and taxis was £92,476,915 in 2018-19 up from £90,862,230 the year before.

East of England Ambulance trust alone saw its spending on private ambulances and taxis double from £4.8m in 2017-18 to £9.5m in 2018-19. The trust said this was to deal with spikes in demand through winter and cover student paramedics while they complete their studies.

The trust said: “It takes three years to qualify as a paramedic and we use private services to fill gaps in budgeted capacity whilst student paramedics complete their university studies and whilst we fill vacancies.

“Recruiting trained staff, particularly registered paramedics, is extremely challenging and whilst we continue to recruit and train a significant number of patient facing staff we continue to use private ambulance services so that we can respond to patients as quickly as possible and give them the best possible service.”

West Midlands Ambulance Service spent nothing on private ambulances but doubled its spend on taxis used to transport patients in non-emergency scenarios. The trust does not use taxis or priovate providers for emergency calls. 

A spokesperson said: “The trust has stopped using private providers and charitable organisations in its non-emergency patient transport service. 

“The Trust does use some taxis as part of its patient transport services operation, and having secured three new contracts in the last year, this will explain the rise. However, we are actively reducing this figure as much as possible.”

In 2017-18 the trust spent £2m on taxis but this rose to £4.1m in 2018-19. The trust has been approached for comment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to a world-class NHS at the point of use and the proportion of spend on the independent sector in the last financial year is at the same level as 2014-15.

“With record numbers of paramedics in the ambulance service, we are supporting them to deliver the response patients need in an emergency, including investing more than £36m for trusts to buy 256 new vehicles, and introducing improved performance standards.”

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