article in the Telegraph
"Senior medics and paramedics say lives are being put at risk by the use of commercial agencies to provide “blue-light” ambulances across swathes of Britain.
An investigation has revealed 11 counties where private firms have been given contracts to run front line emergency services as pressures on health services mount.
The College of Emergency Medicine has warned that patients’ safety is being put in jeopardy by the use of unregulated agencies, which it says use inexperienced or inadequately-trained staff, while paramedics said the practice was a “desperate” response to a crisis in emergency care.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that in 2008, a quarter of England’s 12 ambulance trusts, covering 11 counties, used private agencies to cover thousands of front line shifts.
Great Western Ambulance trust, which covers Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, filled 3,600 ambulance shifts with private agencies, while South Central Ambulance trust relied on 12 private ambulances to bolster services in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hampshire. South Coast Ambulance trust, which covers Sussex, Surrey and parts of Hampshire, began using private ambulances in July and since when it has used them to fill 249 shifts, at a cost of £1,140 a day.
There are dozens of private ambulance firms in Britain, but the majority are used by the NHS as “patient transport” transferring non-emergency patients to different hospitals, or taking them home.
The firms are staffed by former NHS paramedics and ambulance technicians, “moonlighting” health service staff, and people who privately undergo training courses to reach technician level, which gives them more basic skills than a paramedic."