AMBULANCE trusts are increasingly relying on private ambulances to attend 999 calls, an investigation has found.

Research by PA news agency shows England’s ambulance trusts spent more than £92m in the last year on private ambulances and taxis to transport patients. In some trusts, spending has almost doubled from 2017-18 to 2018-19. However in the North-East, the total spending was £3,468,655 last year, down from £3,879,991 the year before.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service only provided figures for private ambulances, with spending of £4,906,384 in 2018-19 and £3,343,771 in 2017/18. Private ambulances were used to respond to 3,606 calls to 999 in 2018/19 (0.48 per cent), up from 2,511 the year before (0.35 per cent).

Nationally, some trusts told PA they rely on private ambulances due to a chronic shortage of NHS staff and ongoing problems with recruitment.

In some parts of the South, almost one in five emergency calls result in a private ambulance being sent to the scene.

For the latest study, PA obtained data from the 10 ambulance trusts in England via the Freedom of Information Act.

It detailed how much they spent on private ambulances and taxis, and whether these were used for 999 calls or non-emergency patient transfers. The data showed the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust spent £9,535,027 on private ambulances for 999 and non-urgent work in 2018/19, double the £4,791,155 the year before.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Labour have longed warned against the risky, wasteful practice of privatising patient transport services.

“Patients are utterly fed up of profiteering companies taking our NHS for a ride.

“Labour will end the Tory privatisation racket and put patients, not profit, first.”

Unison national ambulance officer Colm Porter said: “Spiralling costs for private ambulance hire are siphoning tens of millions from squeezed NHS budgets that would be better spent elsewhere. Research suggests private firms are cutting corners and failing to provide the level of care needed for patients.

“The NHS sorely needs investment to address staff shortages and stem the flow of departures from the ambulance service.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are committed to a world-class NHS free at the point of use and the proportion of spend on the independent sector in the last financial year is at the same level as 2014/15.

“With record numbers of paramedics in the ambulance service, we are supporting them to deliver the response patients need in an emergency, including investing more than £36m for trusts to buy 256 new vehicles and introducing improved performance standards.”