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MP reveals "explosion" in use of private ambulances
AN “EXPLOSION” in the use of private ambulances in the North-East has been revealed by a Labour MP.
Cost-cutting saw the North-East Ambulance Service call in private firms for 13,524 call-outs last year, Tom Blenkinsop said.
That was a 15-fold rise on the 865 incidents answered by private ambulances just four years earlier, according to figures uncovered by the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP.
And taxpayers are paying almost nine times as much - £754,461 in 2012-13, compared with only £86,118 back in 2008-09.
Mr Blenkinsop described the figures as a “massive concern”, saying: “It has become clear that central Government funding cuts are eroding the blue-light service.
“It is obvious that, from 2010 onwards, an explosion of private ambulance usage by the trust has occurred, costing a huge amount of taxpayer funds.”
The MP obtained the figures from the ambulance service, also receiving a letter from its chief executive explaining why it was turning to private firms.
The letter explained the service was only given funds to respond to 376,000 incidents in this financial year – even though it expected there to be 415,000.
It added: “This means that any incidents above 376,000 will be funded on a one-off basis. These arrangements do not allow us to enhance our own workforce.
“The money for the additional activity will not be available next year to fund the extra salaries, overheads and vehicles we need to meet the extra demand.”
Mr Blenkinsop added: “According to that letter, our ambulance service will see more cuts, more private ambulances and possibly a less responsive service.
“It is not me saying this, but the chief operating officer of the North-East Ambulance Service.”
The Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP also highlighted the fears of Cleveland’s elected police chief, Barry Coppinger, about the force acting as an ambulance service.
Last month, officers took patients for urgent medical treatment on five occasions “due to ambulance delays” – despite refusing to do so, unless lives were threatened.
Mr Coppinger had said: “The bottom line is that police officers are not medical professionals and should not be put in the position of having to transport patients to hospital.
“Police vehicles are unsuitable and unequipped. It not only puts undue stress on the patient, but also the officer who should be able to fulfil policing duties on the ground.”
At the end of the debate, health minister Norman Lamb did not respond directly to the criticism of the use of ambulances.
But he accused Labour of “scaremongering about the NHS”, saying: “If the Opposition are thinking about new year’s resolutions, I have one for them - stop misleading and misinforming the public.”
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