September 19 2014 Latest news:
Adam Gretton, Health correspondent
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Officials from a mental health trust have pledged to reduce transport costs after private ambulance expenses more than trebled in the space of two years.
Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), which has come under criticism for sending some patients more than 200 miles away for an inpatient bed, paid more than £150,000 to private ambulance firms over the last three years, according to the results of a Freedom of Information request.
New figures show that the mental health trust spent more than £20,000 during the 2011/12 financial year on private ambulance costs, which rose to more than £70,000 during 2013/14.
More than 100 NSFT patients were sent as far afield as Darlington, Brighton, Bristol, and Harrogate in 2013/14 because there were no inpatient beds available locally.
However, officials from the trust said the rise in private ambulance costs were also because of increased demand for services and higher transport costs.
Emma Corlett, NSFT Unison branch spokesperson, said: “The rise in the spend on private ambulances is yet more evidence of the false economy of cuts to our services. This public money would be better spent on employing more NHS staff. If our community teams were properly resourced and we had enough beds locally there would be no need to use private ambulances at all. There is also a hidden cost of using a private ambulance - the length of time the vulnerable, often distressed, patient and staff have to wait.”
“It is not acceptable to send someone so far away from their family and friends when they need them most, the cost of that is immeasurable.”
A spokesman for NSFT said the organisation had a contract in place with the East of England Ambulance Service for non-emergency patient transport. However, doctors had to call a private provider when the ambulance trust could not assist.
“The rise in private ambulance costs reflects a number of factors; increased transport costs generally (fuel and insurance costs have risen significantly over the past three years and those costs get passed on to the trust), increased demand on our services generally, and also, higher numbers of patients placed out of area.”
“A key priority for the trust is to reduce the number of out-of-area placements and as of today that number stands at 13. Obviously reducing those placements will help reduce the patient transport costs,” he said.