Private ambulances needed over 2,000 times

The emergency ambulance lights.
The emergency ambulance lights.

The Western Trust resorted to using private ambulances on over 2,000 occasions over the past two years because there was no NHS ambulance available, we can reveal today.

Figures obtained by the ‘Derry Journal’ under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Western Health and Social Care Trust had to spend almost £500,000 on renting private ambulances over the 24-month period from January 2014 to December 2015.

The figures show that there were 1,479 such journeys undertaken in 2014, and a further 803 last year after special measures were implemented to try to tackle the mounting bill for outsourcing services.

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said private ambulances are called upon when the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service is “unable to meet the discharge/ transfer demands associated with Unscheduled Care”.

The overall cost of the outsourcing for these ambulances over the past two years has been £457,000.

When asked for a breakdown of the costs, the Western Trust spokesperson said: “The average cost per journey across the two year period was £200.

“This is expected to decrease in line with a recently completed tender award.

“The cost per case rates until December 1, 2015 differed between providers. This ranged from a flat rate charge per hour travelled; a rate depending on the number of hours travelled; and a call out fee for journeys up to a certain limit plus a rate per mile thereafter.”

She added, “Funding for the use of private ambulance comes from within the overall Trust income.”

The Trust confirmed that the previous ambulances came from a number of organisations The Order of Malta, The Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance and Local PCNI (Concierge Practitioners Northern Ireland).

However, a contract for future private ambulance provision has now been allocated to Belfast-based firm Proparamedics following a tendering process.

“Whilst their main base is in Belfast they also have sites which allow easy access to both Altnagelvin Hospital and South West Acute Hospital,” the Trust spokeswoman said.