In the year through November, the service spent more than £ 2.88million on private hire vehicles to bring people in need of special support to their medical appointments.
In Covid-hit 2020, the average monthly expenditure on taxis was over £ 135,000, which rose to an average of £ 288,000 per month for the 10 months available this year.
The Trust said taxis were needed to “support the rapid discharge of patients from hospitals,” and the pandemic has seen their use increase, due to social distancing issues in their own ambulances, and because others drivers supported 999 crews or armored vehicles.
The biggest expenditure on taxis in a month in 2021 was £ 392,973 in February – when the country was in its third lockdown and strict travel restrictions were in place.
In recent months, companies have been billing hundreds of thousands of pounds per month from the publicly funded NWAS.
The actual figure for these expenses is likely to be much higher, as additional millions have been spent to supplement the Trust’s patient transport service with private ambulances, and the published data does not include bills under $ 25. £ 000.
“Take our NHS for a walk”
In 2019, research by the PA News Agency showed that England’s ambulance trusts spent more than £ 92million in a year on private ambulances and taxis to transport patients.
At the time, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said patients were “totally fed up” with companies profiting “from taking a ride with our NHS”.
In 2011, NWAS was criticized for spending £ 9.9million in the three years since April 2008. At that time, department heads said the patient transport service was under attack. a modernization program in conjunction with new eligibility criteria, to ensure that only those with a genuine need could access the service.
They also promised to provide taxis only for nephrology outpatients, as treatment takes place outside of core hours.
But today, NWAS bosses admitted there had been an increase in the use of taxis as the pandemic further strained service.
In 2020, NWAS made 376,763 taxi trips, and from 2021 to October, 384,243 additional trips.
A spokesperson for NWAS said: “Taxis and third-party providers within PTS are often required to provide a responsive and flexible service, especially during peak demand. They are also used regularly to facilitate the rapid discharge of patients from hospitals, which is vital to maintaining the flow of patients. However, we have seen an increase in their use due to the pandemic.
“To maintain social distancing in our ambulances and third-party vehicles, we operated with reduced capacity.
“We need to make more individual trips because several patients could previously have been transported in the same vehicle. Additionally, we saw some of our staff supporting the 999 emergency service while many of our volunteer car drivers protected themselves. “
The Trust operated patient transport service and private ambulances are staffed with care assistants, not paramedics, and the drivers have basic rescue training and manual handling training.
Private hire taxi drivers are not required to have such training or specialized equipment.
The NWAS spokesperson added: “We need to be clear that using taxis does not put our patients at risk. Eligible users must walk unaided and have no special medical requirements, while patients with more complex needs are always transported in specialized ambulances fitted with appropriate fittings.
“As we constantly review the level of use of third-party vehicles, this aligns with meeting the requirements and performance targets of our PTS contract. “
The Trust says that while they constantly review the level of use of third-party vehicles, this is balanced against the performance requirements and targets of their PTS contract.
What is the Patient Transport Service (STP)?
– The Patient Transportation Service (PTS) is a non-urgent service for people who may need special support to get to and from their medical appointments. We provide service to patients in Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
– The PTS is made up of care assistants, not emergency paramedics / medical technicians. Operators have basic rescue training and manual handling training.
– NWAS volunteer motorists have the same training and use their own private vehicles to transport patients.
– Customers’ eligibility for taxis is assessed by a mobility assessment commissioned by the Ministry of Health which tests their ability to walk without assistance or any other medical need.