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Posted on 22nd March 2017

Private ambulances are a risk to patients

Overstretched hospitals are increasingly relying on private companies to help them move vulnerable patients.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said that some of the vehicles used by the private companies are dirty and that some drivers lacked training to drive blue light ambulances.

Whistle-blowers spoke out about receiving just an hour of training before having to drive an ambulance at high speed.

The CQC have issued warning to 25 out of the 39 private ambulance services it inspected. More than half of the ambulance companies inspected have been urgently ordered to improve.

The watchdog has taken the unusual step of writing to all the 260 registered ambulance providers reminding them about the basic standards.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals, wrote in the letter: “We have found problems with the safety of the healthcare provided to people who use independent ambulance services. In these instances, we have taken appropriate enforcement action against the providers to protect the people under their care. However, we are concerned that these might not be isolated findings. We will therefore pay particular attention to these issues at all future inspections and urge you to consider any actions you may need to take to address these issues in your service.”

Private ambulance companies are being used by hospitals to move vulnerable patients, but now many are responding to 999 calls.

In December, the CQC shut down Plymouth Central Ambulance Service Limited for failings including staff driving using blue lights without training.

Sir Mike said: “Providers have a responsibility to ensure the safety and appropriate treatment of the people within their care. Having inspected around 20 per cent of the independent ambulance providers registered in England so far, we are concerned that some may be putting patients at risk.

“Patient safety must be a priority at all times. Vehicles used to transport patients must be clean and fitted with the right equipment, staff must be appropriately trained and supported to carry out their roles effectively, and medicines must be stored securely and administered by staff trained to do so.”

Alan Howson, of the Independent Ambulance Association, said that the CQC shouldn’t’t tar all companies with the same brush” as poor performers. He said that not training drivers was “unforgiveable” but said: “The majority of provision is perfectly safe. The companies that have not done so well have tended to be the very small ones.”

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