MILLIONS of pounds are being spent by an ambulance trust using private providers due to a lack of paramedics.
As South Central Ambulance Service (Scas) continues to struggle to recruit paramedics, figures obtained by The News show it is being forced to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to fill the gaps.
This is despite the number of emergency calls falling for the first six months of this financial year, compared to the same time last year.
And Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has also increased the number of co-responder calls – medical responses it goes out on – each year.
Since April this year, Scas has so far spent £6.8m on private providers, and said for the first time in years it is expecting to end the year in a financial deficit.
Chris Gray is the south-east regional officer for the Unite union.
He said: ‘It’s time for the government to pay attention and address the pay level of paramedics. They provide an invaluable job, but aren’t paid enough so many are just leaving the profession.
‘Morale is low and the service is being stretched – this is before we enter the winter period.
‘I’m not sure the ambulance service could cope with a major crisis, if they are struggling with day-to-day business.
‘There only needs to be one serious incident to cause a backlog.’
Last year there were 516 paramedics working at Scas, but this year that number has fallen to 480.
In the financial year of 2013-14, 82 paramedics were hired, but in the last financial year only 58 were hired.
Chief operating officer Sue Byrne said: ‘This is a real concern for us, but it’s not a problem Scas is facing alone.
‘There is a national shortage of paramedics, and times are going to be challenging.
‘It’s more costly to bring in private providers, but when it comes to providing patient care we have to meet those needs.
‘In Hampshire we have been successful with some recruitment, but more can be done.’
Scas said in April, May and June this year, there were 48,859 calls in Hampshire, a decrease from 49,421 in the same period last year.
And although calls for Hampshire in the months of July, August and September rose from 49,963 last year to 50,398 this year, overall the service saw a drop from 116,689, to 116,180.
A spokesman added: ‘We are currently using more private providers than at any point last year, including the Christmas period.
‘The need reflects the challenge of a national shortage of qualified paramedics.
‘They have extensive, transferable skills which are highly sought-after across public and private sectors.
‘As a result of the trust’s high attrition rates, Scas is placing more demands on its network of approved private providers alongside an extensive recruitment and training programme.’
In the financial year 2011-12, Scas spent £7.2m on private providers, but in the last financial year the trust was forced to spend £12.2m.
The spokesman added: ‘Like all ambulance trusts, pay rates for paramedics are set at a national level.
‘However, due to the location of Scas’ area bordering London – which pays an additional higher cost of living allowance – we are more susceptible to losing paramedics who live in the border areas.