East of England: Dan Poulter MP condemns East of England Ambulance Service as patients ferried to A&E in taxies amid spiralling private vehicle costs
An MP last night attacked the under-fire East of England Ambulance Service after it emerged a number of patients who dialled 999 were taken to A&E by taxi last year.
Documents released under Freedom of Information laws revealed 12 people who suffered traumatic injuries, lacerations, abdominal pain and psychiatric complaints were transferred to accident and emergency in taxis in 2012 after being assessed by emergency call-handlers.
The figures also showed the trust more than doubled its expenditure on private taxi companies in total over five years – rising from £320,100 in 2008 to £685,800 in 2012.
Dr Dan Poulter, junior health minister and MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said the health of patients who had been assessed as requiring A&E treatment but were ferried to hospitals in taxis was being compromised – a charge strongly denied by the trust.
The EEAS said all taxi journeys to A&E were for “low acuity patients” where, following a clinical assessment, it was determined that only transport was needed.
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The trust is still failing to hit its target of attending at least 75% of the most urgent 999 calls within eight minutes and to get a transportable resource to 95% within 19 minutes.
Dr Poulter said the taxi figures raised “very serious concerns”.
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“If someone is so unwell that they require A&E treatment then it is the responsibility of the ambulance service to ensure trained paramedics and ambulance crews provide care in a timely manner and transfer the patient in a safe manner, and obviously taxi drivers don’t have medical or paramedic skills.
“This clearly falls below acceptable standards. The new management needs to learn from the mistakes of the previous board to ensure money is not wasted and taxis are not compromising patient care.”
Tim Roberts, regional organiser for Unison, added: “There are big dangers when 999 calls are assessed over the phone.
“There could be a significant deterioration in that person’s health and there are no medically trained professionals around in the journey.
“If they had enough ambulances and enough staff there would be no need for taxis.”
But an EEAS spokesman said: “Like many ambulance services, we use private taxi companies for our patients. Journeys to A&E would only be for patients with minor conditions. Most of our taxi use is due to extra contractual referrals and is often more cost effective ensuring that patients receive a good service in a timely manner.
“All taxi companies are procured according to NHS regulations in the same way that we purchase all of our equipment and consumables.”
An NHS Trust Development Authority spokesman said: “We will review the use of taxis with the trust as part of ongoing work to help them manage resources most efficiently.”