North East police cars 'taking patients' to hospital
Seriously ill patients are being taken to hospital in the back of police cars because of a lack of ambulances, officers have claimed.
Durham Police and Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, said at a time of dwindling force numbers, officers were having to deal with "critically" ill patients.
He said the problem had increased recently.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) said officers were making the decision to take some patients.
Mr Hogg said it was a dilemma for officers first on the scene of an accident whether or not to take casualties to hospital if an ambulance was delayed.
"I'm very concerned about this for a number of reasons, first police officer numbers are diminishing and when people need medical attention police officers are not the best people to be giving them that.
"Most people who require to go to A&E are not critical but there are instances, because of a lack of availability of ambulances when the police service is the last resort."
'Life or death'
But Paul Liversidge, spokesman for the NEAS, said: "I can assure you in the North East area there are no life-threatening or dying patients being put into the back of police cars.
"The officers on the scene are making the decision to take patients in the back of their cars, and from our perspective, [they are] the ones that can hop in the back."
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said the force was investigating the claims.
"Police vehicles are a valuable resource and essential in reducing crime. It's clearly not ideal for them to be used to take people to hospital," she said.
"These situations are often life or death and it's in the tradition of the police service that officers will do everything they can to protect members of the public and step in where necessary.
"While, this is commendable, it's not right that the police service should be doing the role of another emergency service, especially when they are not qualified to do so."