The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) is spending millions of pounds of taxpayer cash bringing in private ambulances to attend incidents – with costs spiralling in the last five years.

More than £15.4m was handed to private ambulance providers in the last year alone (2022/23), figures obtained exclusively by The Northern Echo show.

The eye-watering figure has spiralled in recent years, up from just £1.3m five years ago (2018/19), and has rocketed by more than £9m compared to last year.

The service says winter and NHS pressures, the pandemic and strikes have contributed to the higher costs.

It represents a staggering rise of 1082%, or almost twelvefold increase, since before the pandemic despite the number of incidents being attended by the private providers only doubling from around 25,000 to 56,000.

It means taxpayers are getting worse value for money for each private ambulance used, with average costs per call jumping from about £52 five years ago to £272 today.

NEAS is one of 11 ambulance trusts in the UK and receives direct government funding.

In the last year, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service spent £5.8m, but only saw a fourfold increase in its spending on private ambulances, the YEP reports.

NEAS said its use of private ambulances is expected to reduce.

COO Stephen Segasby explained: “Investment in our service has risen in the past year and with recurrent funding, we’re now recruiting to permanent vacancies for ambulance crews and as we reach our establishment, our use of private ambulance services for urgent and emergency care is expected to reduce.

“Private ambulance services are often brought in to support and protect our service for patients during surges in demand – most recently as a result of winter, the pandemic, pressures across the NHS and for periods of industrial action.

“All private ambulance companies used by NEAS are subject to a robust procurement process to ensure the safety and standards of care for NEAS patients.”

Labour said the figures represent poor value for money for taxpayers.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “Under the Conservatives, the NHS is chucking away ever greater sums on private ambulances because our ambulance services simply cannot cope.

The Northern Echo: Streeting on a visit to the London Ambulance Service last month.Streeting on a visit to the London Ambulance Service last month. (Image: PA)

“After 14 years of Conservative mismanagement and neglect of the NHS, patients are waiting longer and taxpayers are paying more. We’re paying more but getting less.

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“Labour will give the NHS the staff, equipment, and modern technology it needs to reach patients on time again. We will reform the NHS to make it fit for the future, delivering better care for patients and better value for taxpayers’ money.”

The figures include money handed to private firms and charity providers such as the St John Ambulance.

The Department of Health and Social Care was contacted for comment.