Concerns raised as hard-pressed ambulance trust spends £13m hiring help from private firms

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CONCERNS have been raised after an ambulance service spent millions of pounds buying in help from private firms.

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust (Scas) has spent £13m on hiring private providers, saying an increase in emergency calls and a shortage of paramedics is the reason behind the expense.

But it seems counter-productive that we are not able to recruit enough people and yet spending money on outside providers.

Councillor John Ferrett

But Portsmouth councillor John Ferrett, who until recently was the chairman of the Portsmouth health overview and scrutiny panel (Hosp) said the bill raises big concerns.

‘This is a big problem,’ he said.

‘I do have some sympathy for Scas because from the reports it has given the Hosp it seems it has been recruiting and spending a lot of time on training.

‘But for some reason it is having real problems in terms of retaining people. That is the difficulty.

‘People with specialist skills and paramedics are in short supply and the area Scas serves is one of the most expensive places to live in the country so that could be part of the problem.

‘But it seems counter-productive that we are not able to recruit enough people and yet are spending money on outside providers.’

In a statement, Scas said in the last year it has recruited 313 people as part of its front-line 999 service. It is also working with the University of Portsmouth to have more students training.

Cllr Ferrett added: ‘I am hopeful that Scas is doing all it can to turn it around.

‘I know there are training courses it is running with the university and I am hopeful it is taking these steps to help itself. Still, the amount it spent is a big concern.’

Scas director of operations Mark Ainsworth said using private providers ensures that patients in need are seen as quickly as possible.

‘By filling gaps in our service provision with private providers we have been able to get to our most-ill and seriously-injured patients on average in under seven minutes,’ he said.

‘Until initiatives that are being undertaken at a national level to increase the number of qualified paramedics coming through the university system provide the numbers of staff that we require, the alternative to not employing private providers would be to run a reduced level of service to that which is currently needed by the public we serve.

‘However, we recognise that the existing level of spending on private providers is not sustainable.’

Nationally, NHS spending on private ambulances for 999 calls in England has trebled in four years from £22.1m in 2011/2 to £68.7m in 2015/6. They respond to all types of calls.