Private Ambulances ‘Spurned In Wales’

Ambulances are being tied up on non-emergency cases because of ideological objections to using private sector vehicles in Wales, according to one Welsh-based service.

Gareth Llewellyn, the owner of a Swansea-based private ambulance company, said English NHS trusts are happy to pay £50 an hour for private ambulances to ferry non-emergency patients to and from hospital – yet his firm is snubbed in its native Wales.

Mr Llewellyn said his company works for around 25 to 30 hospital and ambulance trusts and local health boards in England, but just one in Wales – the Carmarthenshire NHS Trust. His comments come just days after the performance of the public sector Welsh ambulance service was branded “appalling” by an all-party committee of AMs.

Mr Llewellyn, whose firm All Wales Ambulance Service has been operating for 14 years, said politicians regard private sector involvement in the NHS as betrayal of its Welsh architect Aneurin Bevan. He said, “If you go to English cities like Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and London, they’ve been using private ambulances in those places for 20 years.

“We have been registered here in Wales for 14 years and what we are continuously fighting against is politics. When private ambulances are mentioned here you often hear politicians saying things like, ‘Nye Bevan would be spinning in his grave if he knew the NHS was being privatised’. But if you look at things like the running of the building, agency staff, catering and portering, there are private companies involved.”

One public sector ambulance worker, who did not wish to be named, said in a typical 12-hour shift he deals with between two and three non-emergency cases, taking up valuable time that could be spent on emergency cases.

The ambulance worker said, “It’s not so much about the number of times it’s happening as about the fact that it happens at peak times when we need to be dealing with emergencies. If the patient lives 15 minutes away we are tied up with the constraints of driving at normal speed and the vehicle can then be unavailable to respond to emergency cases for up to 45 minutes. We will get two or three jobs like that on each shift.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said there was no reason why health trusts should not use private ambulances, but pointed out the service already uses voluntary organisation vehicles, such as those provided by St John Ambulance, when required.

A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said, “It is for the management of the Welsh Ambulance Trust to ensure that they have sufficient ambulance cover across Wales to meet demand at all times. There is nothing to prevent the Ambulance Trust, or any other trust in Wales, from using the private sector to support its work.

“However, a decision on using private ambulances would be an operational matter the trusts. Strict clinical and procurement procedures would need to be met by any company wishing to provide such a service in Wales. In consideration, the trusts would also need to look at a range of issues, including whether a private company has the necessary highly-skilled staff and appropriate ambulances to provide high-quality, safe services for patients in Wales.

“The Ambulance Service already has a good relationship with the voluntary sector and works closely with St John Ambulance. The organisation helps to transport patients from their home to hospital for a treatment and supports the Ambulance Service during very busy periods and major events.”

A spokesperson for the Welsh Ambulance Service said it was not within their remit to commission private ambulances and this was a matter for individual hospital trusts.