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Private ambulance firms cashing in on strikes and NHS under pressure | Health

by Ozva Admin
Private ambulance firms cashing in on strikes and NHS under pressure | Health

Private ambulance companies have been taking advantage of the strikes and long response times to 999 calls by charging hundreds of pounds to transport affected people to hospital.

In another sign of mounting pressures on the National Health Service and the intrusion of the private sector into the health service, The Guardian can reveal that several of these services have been expanded in recent months to take advantage of the growing demand.

One firm, Met Medical, announced in november which would provide paramedic services at St Albans in Hertfordshire, specifically to replace overwhelmed NHS ambulances. Clients can request urgent home visits when an NHS ambulance has not been immediately available.

“The UK ambulance service is under extreme pressure with some services taking up to 24 hours or more to reach patients,” it says on its website.

“If you have a family member who has fallen and is on the ground and needs help or has another condition that requires medical help but the ambulance service has been unable to provide an immediate response and you live in or around St Albans, Hertfordshire. then we may be able to help.”

The newly expanded services aim to cover everything but the immediate threat to life: “life and limb coverage.”

Thousands of patients, including some with serious illnesses, were faced with having to make your own way to the hospital on wednesday as ambulance staff in most areas of England and Wales focused their responses on urgent life-threatening calls due to a 24-hour strike.

Patients were advised to make their own way and use taxis where possible. Strikes have also been announced for January 11 and 23.

According to Google Trends data, searches for private ambulance services have increased considerably in recent years. Searches for private ambulances in London have increased by 150% in the last 12 months, and in the last five years, searches for “private ambulance near me” have increased by 2,450%.

Paramedics can earn between £22 and £35 an hour working for private companies. This is significantly more than they can expect in the NHS, where a paramedic in the lowest band is paid £13.84 an hour, rising to £20.76 for more experienced staff, according to union figures. Unison.

Individual companies declined to provide specific details of their prices. However, some offered rough estimates. The cost of booking a private ambulance service varies significantly. Shorter journeys in densely populated central and eastern England cost £300-400, while bookings in rural areas or over longer distances can cost upwards of £1000.

Three separate companies said they had experienced a sharp increase in demand last year.

Testimonials on the Private Ambulance UK website, which advertises services run by Med-PTS, reveal that families have sought out the service to transport seriously injured and terminally ill patients to hospitals and hospices.

“After waiting six hours for an NHS ambulance to transport my terminally ill husband to a Norwich hospice, I searched online and found Med-PTS, what a find,” wrote one user.

Med-PTS declined to comment.

The NHS has long outsourced less urgent ambulance services to companies as it struggles to cope with demand. To a large extent, these contracts have not been aimed at replacing NHS emergency services, but have instead focused on non-emergency or critical care transfers from hospitals and hospices.

However, the sources said this had changed in recent years, with more contracts being tendered for ancillary services that can respond to immediate threats to life during a “surge” in demand.

The health service and individual NHS trust contracts in this area have exceeded £100m, according to the BidStats contract database.

Private ambulance services have offered direct-to-consumer services for hospital transfers, rides to appointments, and support for large events such as festivals for a number of years, but these have also generally not included emergency response-style services.

Dave Hawkins, chief executive and owner of Met Medical and a registered paramedic, said his company, which operates in the east of England, was trying to support an NHS under increasing pressure.

“For as long as I can remember, we have had winter pressures, but now they don’t seem to go away. The demand seems to be constantly increasing,” she said. “One of the reasons is the effective cuts in medical and social care and the lack of additional beds in community hospitals and residences. It’s about patient flow.”

Met Medical acted as an NHS contractor to provide ad hoc support, it said, as well as testing its new paramedic service.

“These are very small margins on 999 and other calls, particularly with higher fuel costs,” he said. “The public needs to know that it is not like the sudden extreme supply and demand situation and the billions made overnight with PPE [personal protective equipment].

“We started the trial when we were getting more and more calls, particularly from seniors who were suffering from falls and facing long wait times for care.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Twelve years of Conservative mismanagement of our NHS has led to a two-tier health system where those who can afford to go private receive faster treatment and those they can’t wait any longer. This is completely unacceptable.

“Labour has a serious plan to give the NHS the staff it needs to get patients seen on time. The longer the conservatives are in power, the longer the patients will wait.”

The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.
NHS England also declined to comment.

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