IN JUST four weeks the ambulance trust that covers Hampshire spent £1.1m on hiring help from the private sector as it struggled to cope with high demand.
South Central Ambulance Service (Scas) was hit with a triple whammy over the Christmas period – from December 15, 2014 to January 11 this year.
Firstly ambulances were delayed at hospitals, including Queen Alexandra in Cosham, secondly it has found itself about 200 people short and thirdly the number of calls was up by 7.5 per cent from the same period in a year ago.
As a result of all this, Scas said it spent £1.1m on help from private healthcare firms – of that £39,000 was spent on staff.
Councillor Peter Edgar, the health representative of Gosport Borough Council, said: ‘It seems there’s a lack of forward planning and it’s disappointing to see in a time of austerity this kind of money is being spent.
‘Of course forward planning isn’t an exact science, but it’s worrying so much money was spent on a short-term fix.
‘I can understand why it needed to be done, but there needs to be a more effective, long-term way of dealing with this.’
Patient watchdog group Healthwatch Hampshire said recruitment is at the heart of the issue.
Manager Steve Taylor said: ‘Christmas and new year are really hard times for the emergency services, so I can understand why they needed to spend the money.
‘It’s a concern about how much they have spent and I think looking at recruitment will help with this.’
Scas said between December, 15, 2014 and January, 11, 2015, 2,146 hours were lost to handover delays that went over 15 minutes. This relates to the 15-minute handover time of when a patient is brought into A&E and the person is transferred from the care of the ambulance crew to hospital staff.
There were 994 incidents of handover delays between 30 and 60 minutes and 758 of more than 60 minutes.
Scas is carrying out a recruitment drive overseas in a bid to plug the 200-person shortfall it has.
Scas said private providers are used for fewer than one in 20 call-outs.
A spokesman said: ‘Demand on all healthcare services was extremely high which of course put additional pressure on our services. It’s vitally important that despite the increase in demand, Scas continued to attend to our patients as soon as possible and private providers assisted us in doing that.
‘We use private providers to ensure we are able to respond to our patients as quickly as possible during periods of peak demand... and all are CQC registered.’
Scas said it is working on recruitment.
Commissioners say ambulance trust ‘meets demand’
THE doctor-led organisation that pays for health services says South Central Ambulance Service is meeting ‘rising demands’.
Dr Jim Hogan, clinical lead for Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group, said: ‘Scas is an absolutely essential part of the local NHS – it’s imperative the service is resourced and managed properly, so crews are available when people need them.
‘Our ambulance service is facing rising demands – both in terms of the number of calls it receives, and the standard of care provided – but Scas has a strong track record in meeting those demands.’