AMBULANCE bosses forked out more than £10m sending out private companies to emergency calls – with almost half of the cash being spent in Hampshire.
In the last financial year from 2010 to 2011, South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) spent £10.1m on the firms.
Of that figure £4.7m was used on companies responding to 17,361 calls in Hampshire.
SCAS uses several companies on different contracts, including M&L Ambulance Service.
Jock Mclees of Portsmouth Link, a patients’ forum group, said he did not realise private firms were dispatched by the ambulance service.
He said: ‘This sort of expenditure is very similar to requiring agency staff in hospitals.
‘This type of expenditure costs more when staff on the payroll system should be used.
‘This is news to us – we did not realise that SCAS used private firms and to this extent.
‘We would wish they are recruiting hard to make sure money is not being wasted.
‘It is justifiable in terms of patient safety, but it’s much better if they were able to push forward with a recruiting thrust so they cut back as soon as they can, without affecting patient safety.’
An ambulance spokesman said work is being done to increase recruitment, so that eventually the service will not need to use external firms.
Ian Ferguson, SCAS’s chief operations officer, said: ‘Three years ago we secured significant extra investment to employ extra staff so we can give better care.
‘But it takes a period of time to recruit and train paramedics, so to bridge that gap we used private firms.’
Mr Ferguson says the service has recruited 350 people in the past three years, and plans to take on another 150 people in the next 12 months.
This year the service will spend around £6m on private firms, but it is predicted this will fall to £2m next year.
And the service hopes by 2013 it will have recruited and trained enough staff, so it will not need to use private firms.
The service is also aiming to increase the number of people working on the clinical support desk, which takes calls to assess patient needs.