NHS patients ‘are put at risk’ in dirty private ambulances
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Medical and Rescue Services in Nottinghamshire lost its licence in August 2015, after inspectors found it was using out-of-date drugs and its ambulances lacked key equipment.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.’
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‘A horror show’