PATIENTS with minor injuries needing treatment could be taken to hospital by a taxi instead of an ambulance in a new pilot scheme starting today.
South Central Ambulance Service (Scas) is testing the new taxi replacement project in the Portsmouth area in a bid to free up vehicles for patients with more serious conditions.
We have this terrible position where poorly patients are waiting while our resources are with other people, we can free up these resources with this taxi service.Rob Kemp - head of operations for south east Hampshire at Scas
People who request an ambulance for a minor injury that needs hospital treatment, such as a dislocated finger, will have a taxi booked and paid for by Scas.
But MPs in the area and patient groups have raised concerns about the project, saying more details are needed.
Rob Kemp, head of operations for south-east Hampshire at Scas, said: ‘This project is about using a taxi service for very well patients that we sometimes have to convey to hospital for minor injuries.
‘We are bringing in the pilot from today to help ease the pressure in the winter period. Demand has already started to increase.
‘We have this terrible position where poorly patients are waiting while our resources are with other people. We can free up these resources with this taxi service.
‘Our obligations are to make sure we have the resources for our poorly patients. They are our priority.’
A decision on whether a taxi or ambulance is sent will be made in two different ways. When a patient calls 999 and tells the call-handler why they need an ambulance, if it is thought to be minor, a taxi will be sent.
Or, if a paramedic arrives and deems the injury to be small and an ambulance is not needed, a taxi will be ordered.
Mr Kemp added: ‘If the person did not need an ambulance but clearly required some transport to the minor injuries part of A&E then we would tell them we have got an available taxi but if they waited for an ambulance, it would be a longer wait.
‘We have also for the facility to recommend a taxi when an ambulance crew turns up and assesses the patient.
‘A decision would be made only if it is entirely appropriate.’
A fixed budget has not been set aside for the project as Scas is unsure of the number of patients who will fit into the category of being suitable for the taxi service.
Mr Kemp also said all the drivers of the taxis have been ‘rigorously checked’ by Scas, the NHS and the local authority.
‘In terms of the drivers, they are not normal taxi drivers,’ he said.
‘The aren’t medically trained but they have had a number of checks including DBS – similar to that of our staff members.
‘I can see how it would make people nervous but if they access it the same way as an ambulance and it is following a specialist assessment, then it will work.
‘We see all patients as our responsibility and we will be checking on how the pilot is going.’
Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond said she had some doubts about the scheme.
‘Taxi drivers aren’t trained paramedics,’ she said.
‘I do have concerns about this and would like to see some more details.’
Healthwatch Portsmouth, which makes sure patients’ views are heard on a number of health and social care topics, also had some reservations when it came to the scheme.
A spokesman said: ‘Although this seems like it could become a solution to helping ease pressure on the ambulance service, there are some concerns.
‘It would have been good to have some consultation first with patients to see what they think.
‘I can imagine some people being nervous in getting in a taxi.
‘For us, ensuring the patients opinions are heard while this pilot is on-going is key.’
Fareham MP Suella Fernandes said having an alternative service available for patients with minor injuries could help ease demand on ambulances.
She said it is important patients get the best treatment possible during the pilot which will include her constituency as well as Portsmouth, Gosport, Havant and Waterlooville.
She said: ‘I spent time with South Central Ambulance Service on call outs – they provide a very special service, working tirelessly to treat people with serious conditions.
‘But I also witnessed that they are called out too often to people with minor or urgent, but non-emergency, conditions.
‘When a medical emergency is obvious or a person is in a life-threatening condition then an ambulance is absolutely necessary.
‘With A&E and ambulance services under pressure people need to think carefully before calling out an ambulance.
‘People who require urgent care or A&E but are not in a life-threatening condition should seek alternative ways to getting to A&E.
‘Using taxis may help to ease pressure on Scas, ensuring those in genuine medical emergencies get the best possible response and treatment.’
Ms Fernandes has been working with other MPs Penny Mordaunt for Portsmouth North, Caroline Dinenage for Gosport and Flick Drummond for Portsmouth South to try and improve health care in the area including the emergency department at Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, Portsmouth.
They have met with Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust interim chief executive Tim Powell to discuss the pressures facing A&E this winter.