MORE than £16m was spent on private health firms by the area’s ambulance service – the highest bill in the country.
South Central Ambulance Service spent the cash on private ambulance providers but said it is the best-performing trust against targets.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the service, which covers Portsmouth, spent £16,330,000 compared to £13,610,000 the year before and £12,292,000 in 2014/15.
In 2016/17 Scas had the highest spend of all 10 ambulance trusts in the country, the figures obtained by the Press Association revealed.
Mark Ainsworth, Scas director of operations, said: ‘During times of peak demand it has been necessary for the trust to employ the services of an approved list of private providers who are CQC registered in order that we can provide the right level of emergency cover to meet the demands of the local communities we serve.
‘The rise in spending on private providers is directly related to the year-on-year increase for our emergency 999 service, which corresponds with a time where all ambulance services are facing a national shortage of paramedics.
‘In 2016/17, our emergency 999 demand for patients suffering a life-threatening emergency (red calls) increased by 20 per cent from the prior year, and without the private providers we would currently not have enough resources to get to all the patients who need us.’
The service said it had slashed its 999 frontline vacancy rate from 19 per cent to 12 per cent, but was still waiting for students to come through universities to plug further gaps.
And Mr Ainsworth said 10.95 per cent of patients who suffered a cardiac arrest survived after being discharged from hospital – the best-performing figures in the country.
‘Where it matters most – responding to patients suffering a life-threatening illness or major trauma – we are saving more people than ever before,’ Mr Ainsworth said.
Scas covers 3,554 square miles and received than 560,000 emergency 999 calls each year.
The next biggest spender on private providers was East of England Ambulance Service which spent £14m – about double the previous year.
Overall, NHS spending on private ambulances has risen by 22 per cent in two years from £64m in 2014/15 to £78m in 2016/17m.
Private ambulances are hired from firms as well as St John Ambulance and the Red Cross, among others.
Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘It is concerning that trusts are having to use part of their budget for private ambulances, and serves to highlight the current levels of demand emergency departments are facing.’
He said hospital bed-blocking had a knock-on, with ambulances unable to off-load patients at emergency departments due to too few beds.