Revealed: £454k spent on luxury cars such as BMWs and Range Rovers for East of England Ambulance Service managers
PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 May 2016 | UPDATED: 12:05 02 May 2016
Hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on luxury cars for managers by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) in the past year, it has emerged.
Figures from a Freedom of Information request show that £454,636 was spent on 81 lease cars for managers, including BMWs, Audis and Range Rovers, in 2015/16.
The news comes as the organisation continues to miss its response time targets in many parts of the region – with performance in Suffolk at its lowest level in February for around two years.
Last night, a health watchdog called for EEAST to “transparently review its approach to the leasing of unmarked vehicles”.
The trust spent £259,671 on blue light enabled vehicles, which can be used by senior ambulance officers to respond to emergencies, and £194,965 on those without blue lights installed.
Luxury cars in their fleet include a Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, which can cost £35,000 new, a BMW X4, which can cost as much as £49,645 and an Audi SQ5, for which prices start at £45,930.
And among the 40 cars in the non-blue light category, some models, such as the Mercedes A200, can cost as much as £48,995.
Managers must make a contribution for the car of their choice if it is over the trust’s set level of expenditure.
A spokesman for the trust said: “Similar to other NHS Ambulance Trusts, lease cars are issued to staff in line with the trust’s business travel policy to ensure officers can deliver their duties across a very large geographical area of 7,500 square miles.
“The majority of the lease cars for senior managers are for blue light responding ambulance officers.
“Ambulance officers’ lease cars are fitted with blue lights and sirens, so that they can respond to patients in their local community, manage the scene at serious or major incidents or respond to on call duties in an emergency.
“All new blue light user cars also have 4x4 or all wheel drive capability to allow officers to respond in adverse weather conditions or across difficult terrain.
“Officers that use marked and unmarked cars to respond to patients help us get treatment to patients quicker.”
Last night, Healthwatch Suffolk chief executive, Andy Yacoub, said the organisation would encourage EEAST to “transparently review its approach to the leasing of unmarked vehicles”.
“Healthwatch Suffolk is aware of the financial pressures that are faced by the trust and of course all our NHS and social care organisations. We expect patient care and staffing matters to be central to any budgeting considerations.
“The East of England is a significant area to cover and much of it is rural.
“Transport and the choice of vehicles requires careful thinking. The leasing of vehicles needs to be based on need, sensible budget management and a joined-up approach, in order to maximise negotiating power for agreeing value for money contracts.
“We would therefore encourage the trust to transparently review its approach to the leasing of unmarked vehicles.”
The trust, which saw a 21% increase in 999 calls in March alone, has said that its staff are working “extremely hard” to provide the best possible service to patients.
The spokesman added: “The trust is actively addressing staff wellbeing and tackling late finishes. For example, the trust recently rolled out a new programme to support staff who have been to traumatic incidents.
“Over the last two years we have recruited more than 750 student paramedics. We also recently launched a campaign to attract a further 300 patient facing staff and we will be aiming to recruit an additional 300 staff on top of this later in the year.
“Alongside this, the trust has invested significantly in its ambulance fleet, and has the most modern ambulance fleet in the country now.
“This has included increasing the size and quality of the fleet, so staff have the best equipment and facilities to treat patients and patients get care in the best possible environment.”
The East of England Ambulance Service Trust said: “Our trust is currently under tremendous pressure, with ever increasing rises in 999 demands, a higher acuity of patients, student paramedic abstractions for training and mentoring, and hospital handover delays.
“Hospital handover delays have increased by 20% (in the East of England) since 2014 and in the last financial year the number of calls referred to us from 111 in Suffolk has increased significantly (from 19,232 to 20,890).
“Clearly we are disappointed with our current response times, but we have put a number of actions in place to improve these: we have increased the number of clinicians in our control rooms so that we can give medical advice to more patients over the phone, which frees up our clinicians on the road to attend life-threatening and serious calls.
“We have recruited almost 800 student paramedics in the last two years (ready for March 2017).
“In addition, we are looking to hire hundreds more patient-facing staff.
“We will continue to work closely with (NHS partners) to address rising levels of hospital handover delays.
“We are also seeing a positive trend with staff retention and attrition; the latest data shows that we have significantly improved our staff turnover rate.”
Response times hit two-year low
Ambulance response times to the most serious emergencies in parts of Suffolk have fallen to their worst levels for two years, new figures show.
In a fresh blow to the embattled East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), only 56% of Red 1 calls – patients in a life-threatening condition – were met within eight minutes in the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area in February.
This is below the Government’s 75% target and is the worst rate since at least April 2014. Monthly figures before then are not available.
For the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG area, the figure was 57%, the latest EEAST performance data showed. This is the lowest since 50% in August 2014.
Meeting the target is crucial for the patient’s chances of survival. Red 1 incidents can include patients who are not breathing or have no pulse.
But the EEAST has now failed to hit the target for both areas for the last nine months, stretching back to May 2015. It comes despite a series of pledges to improve performance standards over recent years.
Last night, EEAST said they are facing “tremendous pressures”.
But Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “This is naturally a worrying trend, particularly for a rural area such as Suffolk.
“Healthwatch Suffolk has submitted a briefing to the Care Quality Commission, which is inspecting the Trust for the first time. It indicates that consistency of performance and waiting for ambulances to arrive is an issue for patients and their families or friends.
“But it also recognises that people are strongly positive about the professionalism of ambulance crews and the treatment they receive once an ambulance has arrived.”
When Robert Morton was appointed as EEAST chief executive in August last year, the Red 1 response rates were 68% and 69.5% in the West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG areas respectively.
But separate EEAST figures show that the number of 999 calls in Suffolk have risen by a fifth in the 12 months to March – from 9,872 to 11,882. Meanwhile, the number of EEAST paramedics fell from 1,239 to 1,219 also in the 12 months to March.
Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill said: “I have spoken to Robert Morton about the challenges and arranged a one-to-one meeting.
“While I have been assured that the figures for April 2016 are showing welcome improvements, I am concerned over the consistency of the response times. It is my priority to support the 800 students in training and ensure everyone is working to deliver smoother hospital handovers.”
An EEAST report last year stated “hospital delays still remain the single most frustrating reason for poor performance within the region”. It said ambulances could have attended 2,532 more incidents in the region in February last year.
A West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG spokesman said: “The EEAST shares our disappointment and recognises there is a need for speedy and positive change to improve these performance issues. The CCGs will work with the EEAST to develop an action plan.”