The NHS is spending around £1 million a week – or £61 million a year – hiring private ambulances to serve emergency calls, health union Unison has said.
Data obtained by the union has shown that ambulance trusts across England are commissioning more than a dozen private companies to meet response times, with some being booked up to a year in advance.
The union criticised the ‘short-term fix’, adding that funds are being sent to private companies rather than being invested into training and retaining ambulance staff.
According to the data, North West Ambulance Service spent more than £15 million between January and December 2022, while South Central Ambulance Service spent £19 million during the last financial year.
North East Ambulance Service and South East Coast paid around £7 million and £6 million a year respectively.
And East Midlands Ambulance Service predicted a £9.5 million spend for the 2022-23 financial year, while Yorkshire Ambulance Service spent £4.5m between 2021 and 2022.
The money for private cover comes from the Government’s one-off crisis management payments.
Unison said the approach deters ambulance trusts from investing in their own additional NHS vehicles and staff.
Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said: ‘This spend on private 999 services shows a lack of long-term planning and is a shocking waste of money. It’s nothing more than a sticking-plaster solution.’
She added: ‘This is a crisis of the government’s own making that can only be resolved with a long-term plan. Ministers must step up and come up with proper funding to tackle increasing demand and pay staff properly.’