NHS pa­tients ‘are put at risk’ in dirty pri­vate am­bu­lances

Daily Mail - - News - By Ben Spencer Med­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent b.spencer@dai­ly­mail.co.uk

PRI­VATE am­bu­lance firms hired by strug­gling NHS trusts may be putting pa­tients at risk, a watch­dog warned yes­ter­day.

The Care Qual­ity Com­mis­sion said pri­vate am­bu­lances are of­ten dirty and un­hy­gienic, staff are not al­ways prop­erly trained, and some driv­ers do not even hold the cor­rect driv­ing li­cences.

Pro­fes­sor Sir Mike Richards, Eng­land’s chief in­spec­tor of hos­pi­tals, yes­ter­day wrote to ev­ery in­de­pen­dent am­bu­lance ser­vice in Eng­land warn­ing of ‘emerg­ing con­cerns’ about pa­tient safety. The let­ter, seen by the Daily Mail, warns them to shape up.

It iden­ti­fies ‘com­mon con­cerns’ about clean­li­ness, in­fec­tion con­trol, poor re­cruit­ment checks and un­safe medicines man­age­ment.

The let­ter said the prob­lems had arisen dur­ing re­cent in­spec­tions, adding: ‘We are con­cerned that th­ese might not be iso­lated find­ings.’

Of the 39 in­spec­tion re­ports into pri­vate am­bu­lance providers pub­lished over the past two years, 64 per cent have or­dered com­pa­nies to im­prove.

Two firms were stripped of their right to op­er­ate am­bu­lances be­cause they were so dan­ger­ous.

Ply­mouth Cen­tral Am­bu­lance Ser­vice lost its reg­is­tra­tion in De­cem­ber, af­ter it was found to be em­ploy­ing peo­ple who were not qual­i­fied to drive with blue lights. Records were not kept of the drugs given to pa­tients. Intrim Med­i­cal and Res­cue Ser­vices in Not­ting­hamshire lost its li­cence in Au­gust 2015, af­ter in­spec­tors found it was us­ing out-of-date drugs and its am­bu­lances lacked key equip­ment.

Sir Mike said: ‘Hav­ing in­spected around 20 per cent of the in­de­pen­dent am­bu­lance providers reg­is­tered in Eng­land, we are con­cerned that some may be putting pa­tients at risk. Pa­tient safety must be a pri­or­ity at all times.’

NHS am­bu­lance ser­vices are in­creas­ingly re­liant on pri­vate firms be­cause they can­not cope with the soar­ing vol­ume of emer­gency calls.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Daily Mail in Jan­uary found that the NHS is us­ing pri­vate crews to at­tend hun­dreds of thou­sands of calls, in­clud­ing the most serious life-threat­en­ing emer­gen­cies.

Last night paramedics’ unions de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as a ‘horror show’, which is set to get worse as pres­sure on the NHS grows.

But Alan How­son, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the In­de­pen­dent Am­bu­lance As­so­ci­a­tion, said: ‘We fully sup­port the CQC in in­spect­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies – where they are not up to stan­dard they must be iden­ti­fied.

‘But I don’t ac­cept there is a wide­spread prob­lem. The am­bu­lance com­pa­nies they are pick­ing up tend to be very small op­er­a­tors – most com­pa­nies are do­ing very good work.’

Tougher rules on English lan­guage and med­i­cal skills tests for for­eign doc­tors would cut the rate of serious mis­takes they make by up to 50 per cent, a York Univer­sity study found.

‘A horror show’

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