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NHS ‘Relying’ On Private Ambulances For 999 Calls

An investigation by the Press Association has found that ambulance trusts in England spent over £92 million in the last year on private ambulances and taxis to attend 999 calls and take people to hospital.

In some parts of the south of England, nearly one in five calls led to a private ambulance being sent out. And some trusts have said that they’re forced to rely on this kind of service because of a chronic shortage of staff and problems with recruitment.

The data shows that the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust spent £9.5 million on private ambulances in 2018/2019, double the £4.8 million that was seen the year before. In all, private ambulances were sent to five per cent of all 999 cases last year, a rise on the 2.6 per cent the year before.

The trust explained that it had hired hundreds of new employees but had to use private ambulances to cover for spikes in demand during winter and for overtime.

“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,” it said.

Colin Porter, Unison national ambulance officer, commented on the news, saying that millions are being squeezed out of the budget to cover the costs of private hire, money that could be put to better use elsewhere.

He went on to add that research has shown that private companies are “cutting corners” and not providing the right kind of care for patients. As such, investment is needed to reduce staff shortages and “stem the flow of departures from the ambulance service”.

Over the NHS as a whole, staff members across England took 7.7 million days of sick leave between December 2017 and November last year. Nearly a quarter of these were down to anxiety, stress, depression or other mental health condition – more than the next two most common reasons put together (musculoskeletal conditions and flu).

According to Metro, deputy head of health of Unison Helga Pile observed that staff members now have to deal with massive workloads, alongside intimidation, bullying and violence from patients.

She explained that staff shortages throughout the health service mean that employees are now being routinely asked to do more but with fewer resources as they try to keep the NHS alive.

Sheffield Health and Social Care Foundation Trust emerged at the top of the list for the highest proportion of working days lost to depression or similar conditions, at 38 per cent.

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