NHS spends £80m on private ambulances a year, data shows

The NHS is spending almost £80m a year hiring private ambulances to answer 999 calls and take patients to hospital for appointments, new figures show.

Widespread shortages of paramedics and rising demand forced England’s 10 NHS ambulance trusts to spend £78.4m in 2016-17 on help from non-NHS providers to supplement their own services. That was down on the £79.7m trusts spent in 2015-16, but 22% more than their £64.2m outlay in 2014-15, according to data obtained by the Press Association under freedom of information laws.

South Central ambulance service spent the most on private services last year – £16.3m, up from its £13.6m outlay the year before and £12.3m in 2014-15.

A spokesman for the Independent Ambulance Association (IAA) said the main reasons for a rise in private ambulance use in the last two years were “staff shortages in NHS ambulance trusts, combined with continued increases in demand”.

The benefits of using independent firms include flexibility and good value for money as “it’s cheaper for the NHS than paying overtime”, he added.

Jonathan Street, a spokesman for the College of Paramedics, said NHS ambulance staff were “under heavy pressure due to growing numbers of 999 calls”.

He added: “These services are increasingly reliant on paramedics and other ambulance clinicians within the private sector to meet the demand, which involves considerable cost.”

Full story in The Guardian, 19 September 2017