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NHS Told To Pay For Taxis To Get Patients To Hospital During Ambulance Strikes

One ambulance service issued an urgent appeal to the public on Monday evening (Alamy)

4 min read

NHS trusts could end up paying for taxis to transport patients to hospitals during ambulance strikes later this month while people are already being urged to only call 999 for an ambulance if their life is at risk.

Ambulance staff are set to walk out next week on 21 December and again on 28 December in a dispute over pay. While Will Quince has confirmed that ambulances are still likely to respond to the most urgent calls during strikes, he said that other transport such as taxis could be block booked by NHS trusts in order to help transport other patients.

A No 10 spokesperson said today that it was their “understanding” that any such transport would be paid for out of existing NHS trust budgets. 

“Ambulances will still be able to respond to 999 calls. For those calls where it is not life-threatening, alternative support will be available," they said. 

"If appropriate alternative transport can be arranged, that could include taxis, but it will be up to the individual NHS trust to decide what is appropriate.”

Ambulance services are already under considerable pressure as a result of insufficient resource to respond to an increased number of patients as the cold winter sets in. 

One ambulance service issued an urgent appeal for the public to only call 999 for the most gravely ill patients as a result of hundreds already waiting for paramedics. 

More than 600 people were waiting for paramedics from the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) on Monday evening, leaving officials to ask that people “only call 999 if someone has a serious illness or injury, you think their life is at risk, and you cannot get them to hospital by any other means”.

The public were also asked to “not call 999 to check on ambulance arrival times”, as more than 100 NWAS vehicles were waiting to hand over patients at hospitals at 5pm yesterday. 

NWAS said last night that a “combination of factors”, including weather and delays at hospital handovers, had impacted services. 

Ged Blezard, Director of Operations, said in a statement: “Please only call 999 if someone has a serious illness or injury, you think their life is at risk, and you cannot get them to hospital by any other means.

“We know there are patients waiting for our help and we are sorry that we are unable to respond as quickly as we would like. Please be assured that we will get to you as soon as we can.

“The public can help us by only calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies. We cannot stress enough that our ambulance crews are reserved for the most life-threatening cases and these incidents will be prioritised."

Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said following the incident in the North West that  “it is shocking that it is no longer the case that patients can call 999 safe in the knowledge that an ambulance will arrive at all, let alone on time. 

“This is the terrifying consequence of 12 years of Conservative mismanagement of our NHS. Now they are choosing to make the situation even worse by refusing to negotiate, leading NHS staff to walk out on strike.”

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden has urged unions to call off the strikes taking place across December, which are expected to cause major disruption.

"The government will do all it can to mitigate the impact of this action, but the only way to stop the disruption completely is for union bosses to get back round the table and call off these damaging strikes,” he said.

"I will be chairing a series of Cobra meetings over the coming weeks to ensure our plans are as robust as possible, and that disruption is kept to a minimum."

Following the statement from North West Ambulance Service, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:  “These levels of performance are clearly unacceptable, and patients deserve access to the highest-quality urgent and emergency care. That is why we are prioritising health and social care with up to £14.1 billion over the next two years, on top of record funding.

“This winter, we are taking action to reduce ambulance handover delays. This includes; setting up 24/7 data driven system control centres in every local area to manage demand and ensure patients can access treatment as quickly as possible, increasing capacity in hospitals, and investing £500 million to speed up the safe discharge of people from hospital into social care – ensuring ambulances can get back out on the road.

“This is on top of £150 million this year for ambulance services to help meet pressures, £20 million to upgrade the ambulance fleet, and boosting call handlers.”

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