NHS spending on private ambulances has soared in the North East, new figures have revealed.
The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s spending on private ambulance services has more than quadruped between the financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14, figures from Freedom of Information Requests show.
In 2011/12 the amount spent was £639,820, but this rose a staggering 353% to £2,898,275 in 2013/14.
However, other ambulance services maintained lowest levels of spending across the period while one even reduced its reliance on private vehicles.
Over the same period, average ambulance response times – the period between a logged call and the vehicle’s arrival – increased by 51 seconds in the North East.
A spokesperson for the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said:
“While it’s true that average ambulance response times have increased over the last three years, so too has the volume of calls being dealt with by our contact centre.
“Despite this marked increase in activity, the North East Ambulance Service remains one of the best performing in the country for reaching those patients most in need.
“To put it in perspective, our average response time to an emergency in 2011 was 5 minutes 11 seconds. In 2014, it is six minutes. Both of which are well within the national target of eight minutes.
“Organisations such as Red Cross and St John have been used to a greater extent over the last year, again as a consequence of demand.
“There is also a national shortage of paramedics due to the longer three-year-period it now takes to complete the required degree. NEAS hopes to have an extra 140 paramedics by 2016.”
Official NHS figures show that across the country even ambulances for the most serious cases are taking over a minute longer to reach patients than three years ago.
NHS ambulance services across England are now spending close to double the figure on private ambulances when compared to 2012, with parts of the country seeing a 10-fold rise.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said:
“These figures show just how quickly the NHS is changing under David Cameron. Blue-light ambulance services have traditionally been considered part of the public core of the NHS. It is clear that no part of the NHS is now immune to privatisation.
“When people dial 999, most would expect an NHS ambulance crew to turn up. People have never been asked whether they think blue-light ambulance services should be run by private companies. Before this practice goes any further, there should be a proper public debate about it.
“NHS paramedics have raised concerns over whether private crews have sufficient training, competence and are fully equipped. The Government needs to provide urgent answers to these questions and provide assurances that this practice is not compromising patient safety.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 21 Oct 2014
Fears have been raised that the region’s ambulance service is struggling following incidents where patients have been left for hours.
In recent weeks issues have arisen where elderly patients have been left waiting for paramedics from the North East Ambulance Service to arrive.
Frances Logan, 94, of Hetton-le-Hole, suffered a fall in her apartment and was left lying on the floor for three hours until an ambulance finally turned up.
In another incident this Monday, an elderly woman who fell at Beaconsfield Avenue, Low Fell, Gateshead, was left lying on the pavement for more than two-and-a-half hours until emergency services arrived.
Meanwhile, this Wednesday a Health and Care Professions Council hearing will look into the conduct of former North East paramedic, Mark P Lakinski, who is alleged to have failed to transport a patient directly to hospital as his shift was due to end and he handed the patient over to another paramedic so he could be relieved from duty. The patient later died at hospital.
Union officials and a leading North MP have now warned that crews are being spread too thinly as the face increasing pressures.
Joel Byers, Unison branch secretary for the North East Ambulance Service said: “Paramedics are working very hard, but there is a lack of resources and a lack of paramedics. It is down to cuts that ambulance services are facing. The cuts were not supposed to affect patient care or the frontline, but they have.
“Paramedics are under increasing pressure and some are leaving the profession to pursue different careers or are moving abroad. Pressures are such that staff can’t get finished on time and they can’t get their meal breaks.”
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said he was concerned that the strain on the ambulance service was “now intolerable” and more investment was required to tackle the problems the service is facing.
He said: “We can’t go on like this. The ambulance service cannot be the only point of contact with healthcare. The strain on the service is now intolerable. Nor is it fair to put further pressure on hospital’s A&E departments. In many cases this amounts to the same thing.
“The North East Ambulance Service is regarded as one of the best in the country but it is being overwhelmed by increased demand. The answer is further investment in the service itself and in the work of General Practice. There is also a strong case for clamping down on hoax calls and misuse of the service.”
Health chiefs at the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said both the elderly women’s falls were correctly categorised by as Green 3, the lowest priority available.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 July 2014
The region’s police forces are snooping on phone calls and emails 53 times every day, it has been revealed – triggering an investigation.
The surveillance watchdog has raised the alarm over forces using powers to tap into communications data far too often, warning privacy may be at risk.
And it announced an inquiry into whether there should be stricter curbs on the police and other law enforcement bodies – to ensure snooping is not an “automatic resort“.
A report to Parliament revealed that forces in the North-East and North Yorkshire tapped into communications data a staggering 19,444 times in 2013.
The highest total was recorded by Durham police (6,218), followed by Northumbria (6,211), North Yorkshire (4,058) and then Cleveland (2,957).
Authorisation is granted to uncover the “who, when and where” of a communication, such as who owns the phone, or email address, or computer IP address.
The police also learn who that person was in contact with electronically – but not what was said in that communication.
The powers are granted under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which the Coalition altered after protests, to curb excessive spying.
His report concluded: “It seems to me to be a very large number. It has the feel of being too many.
“I have accordingly asked our inspectors to take a critical look at the constituents of this bulk to see if there might be a significant institutional overuse.
“This may apply in particular to police forces and law enforcement agencies who between them account for approaching 90 per cent of the bulk.”
Nationwide, most communications were tapped into to “prevent or detect crime, or prevent disorder“, followed by “emergency, to prevent death or injury“.
Durham Police mounted a strong defence of its use of covert tactics, arguing almost everybody now used a mobile phone and the internet.
The force insisted it “takes the privacy of individuals seriously” and that every application under Ripa is considered by a senior person independent of the investigation.
Detective Superintendent Lee Johnson said: “Some individuals in society have no consideration of the rights of others and commit crime and make use of phones to enable the commission of the crime.
“When identifying the location of a missing person, a wanted person, or how a phone has been used in the commission of a crime, it is now an important investigative tool to make use of call data in locating someone, or proving their criminality.
“The public expect the police service to make effective use of tools available to them to protect vulnerable individuals in society, or identify offenders and bring them to justice.”
And Home Secretary Theresa May backed forces, saying: “Communications data is vital in helping to keep the public safe: it is used to investigate crimes, bring offenders to justice and to save lives.”
The annual report also listed many local authorities which snooped on phone calls and emails last year, including York (80 times) and Redcar and Cleveland (69).
However, a spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council said its high figure was explained by its regional role coordinating ‘Scambusters‘ trading standards crackdowns.
In fact, only one of the 69 authorisations listed in the watchdog’s report was actually carried out by Redcar and Cleveland, he added.
Similarly, a spokesman for York City Council said its high figure was the result of its similar regional role in tackling ‘e-crime‘.
It said it applied through the National Anti-Fraud Network to identify those behind the telephone numbers they were investigating, but not the content of the messages.
Colin Rumford, City of York Council’s Head of Regional Investigations, said: “We make applications through the National Anti-Fraud Network to identify the people and organisations behind telephone numbers that we’re investigating as part of our sizeable remit to work for the national trading standards e-crime team, the regional trading standards Scambuster team and local consumer fraud.
“None of the applications relate in any way to the interception of messages between individuals.”
All fire authorities and ambulance services in the region reported that they did not use the powers.
Source – Northern Echo 10 April 2014