East of England Ambulance Service doubles use of private vehicles

Ambulance Image copyright PA
Image caption The East of England Ambulance Trust spent £9,535,027 on the private vehicles

The number of private ambulances used for 999 and non-emergency call-outs has doubled in the eastern region in the last year, figures show.

The Press Association found the East of England Ambulance Trust spent £9,535,027 on the private vehicles, compared to £4,791,155 the year before.

Private ambulances were sent to 26,428 incidents in 2018-19 - up from 12,947 the previous year.

The trust said private services were used for overtime and spikes in demand.

Data was obtained from the 10 ambulance trusts in England via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

It showed NHS ambulance trusts in England spent £92,476,915 on private ambulances and taxis in 2018-19, compared to £90,862,230 the year before.

Those spending more included South Central, East Midlands and Yorkshire.

The East of England Ambulance Trust said the private ambulances were used "to fill gaps in budgeted capacity whilst student paramedics complete their university studies and whilst we fill vacancies".

"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," the trust added.

Spending on private ambulances

NHS ambulance trusts in England

Trust2017-182018-19% change
East of England£4.8m£9.5m99%
East Midlands£4m£7m75.4%
South Central£28.8m£27.7m-3.9%
South Western£4.7m£4.1m-13.1%
South East Coast£10.8m£9.2m-14.6%
North East£3.2m£2.7m-15.7%
North West£9m£6.1m-32.3%
West Midlands£0.3m£0m-100%
Note: South Central figures also include spending on "patient transfer work". Figures are rounded to nearest £100,000.
Source: Press Association

West Midlands Ambulance Service, which recently lost its contract to supply non-emergency patient transport, spent nothing on private ambulances in 2018-19.

However, it doubled its spend on taxis to transport patients for non-urgent work.

Among those spending less were the North West and South Western ambulance services.

Spending on taxis

NHS ambulance trusts in England

Trust2017-182018-19% change
West Midlands£2m£4.1m101%
South Western£0.1m£0.1m98%
North East£0.7m£0.8m13%
South Central£1.7m£1.8m6%
East Midlands£1.2m£1.1m-7%
South East Coast£3.2m£2.7m-16%
East of England£0.9m£0.7m-23%
North West£9m£6.1m-32%
YorkshireNot answeredNot answered
LondonNot answeredNot answered
Note: South Western's figure relates to taxis used for 999 work. All figures rounded to nearest £100,000.
Source: Press Association

The NHS union Unison said the cost for private ambulance hire was "siphoning tens of millions from squeezed NHS budgets that would be better spent elsewhere".

It said more investment was needed to address staff shortages and "stem the flow of departures from the ambulance service".

The Independent Ambulance Association (IAA) said support provided by independent ambulance providers to NHS ambulance trusts was "vital".

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said it was investing more than £36m for trusts to buy 256 new vehicles.

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