Region’s ambulance service doubles its bill to become second biggest spender on private vehicles

East of England Ambulance Service.
Picture: James Bass

East of England Ambulance Service. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2011

The region's ambulance service has more than doubled its spend on private ambulances in just one year, new figures reveal.

Data collected by the Press Association shows the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) splashed out more than £14m on ambulances from independent firms and charities to answer 999 calls in 2016/17, up from £6.6m the year before.

EEAST was the second highest spender of all 10 NHS ambulance trusts in England during the last financial year, behind only South Central Ambulance Service which splurged £16.3m.

Experts said NHS paramedics were dealing with more jobs and were being held up with patients at busy emergency departments, which delays them from getting back on the road.

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.

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'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.

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'Ambulances then have to queue outside emergency departments for longer than should be necessary, delaying them from getting back out into the community, and creating a need for private ambulances.'

Jonathan Street, spokesman for the College of Paramedics, said stress and heavy workloads were leading to high turnovers of NHS staff.

A spokesman for the Independent Ambulance Association said there were several benefits of using independent firms, including flexibility and good value for money, and the standard of care was 'no different' to that offered by the NHS as all providers were registered with the Care Quality Commission.

A spokeswoman for EEAST said it used private ambulances to cope with spikes in demand, such as in the winter.

She added: 'We continue to increase our own front-line staffing, which has enabled us to significantly reduce our use of private ambulance services this financial year and in the first five months of 2017/18 our private ambulance spend was £1.7m. We plan to spend around £3m this year on front line support and will dynamically review it to keep our patients safe.

'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.'

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