The collapse of a private ambulance firm in the Home Counties last week, triggering chaos for the NHS, could be a harbinger of a broader crisis.
The Private Ambulance Service (PAS) ran passenger transport for patients in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. It went bankrupt just seven months into the contract, leaving hospitals in the lurch.
The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust is running a skeleton service until bosses find a new provider.
PAS’s shoddy service exposes the consequences of letting private ambulance providers leech off the NHS.
Former PAS driver Riz Basharat said, “They have made a mockery of the whole system, basically a shambles from day one. I don’t know how the NHS even allowed them to take on this contract.”
For seven months the company has seriously failed patients. Herts Valley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the body that awarded PAS the contract, was forced to apologise earlier this year.
William Hilton, an 85 year old, patient was forced to wait the whole day to go back from St Albans City Hospital in June. The following month he was left waiting again, this time for three hours.
William’s daughter Tina Hilton told the local newspaper, “He was finished by 9.30am and the receptionist gave the PAS a call. After the initial call another two were made to find out what on earth was going on and when the pick-up could be expected. The transport finally arrived at12.30pm.”
A coroner ruled that Kim Page’s husband died from a heart attack in February 2015 after a “serious failure of care” by PAS.Bosses still face a £75,000 compensation claim.
The bankruptcy didn’t come surprise to many workers.
Tim Roberts, a Unison union official, said, “Wages were not being paid, credit lines were closing down, and contributions to the pension schemes held back.It was obvious the company was dying on its feet.”
The NHS is increasingly relying on private ambulance providers. Hospital bosses in England spent almost £80 million on them in the past year.
The London Ambulance Service alone spent £10 million on private ambulances in 2016—more than 14 times more than the £700,000 it spent in 2011.
PAS provided “non emergency” passenger transport. The consequences of its demise were bad enough. But private firms are increasingly being used to respond to 999 emergency calls too.
Hiring them is seen as a cheap, short term alternative to dealing with the chronic staffing crisis among paramedics. Firms bid for contracts by promising to deliver them cheaply, but hand them back when profits aren’t high enough.
Stopping the chaos mean kicking profit-making firms of the NHS, and getting rid of the “internal market” that sees both public and private providers compete for contracts