South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust spent £7.3m

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Kent’s ambulance trust says it is looking at ways to reduce its reliance on private ambulance providers after new figures revealed it spent a staggering £7.3 million hiring in private contractors.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) told KoS it always prioritised using its own staff whenever possible.

But it admitted that, along with other ambulance services nationally, it did use private providers when busy.

A SECAmb spokesman explained that this is “when faced with high levels of demand, when experiencing high call volume or during periods of bad weather”.

But he stressed this caused no impact to the service, despite the Labour Party – which released spending figures on private ambulances –warning it could put patients at risk.

“We have robust governance arrangements in place for the procurement of private ambulance services,” he said.

“While working on our behalf, any private provider will be subject to a continuous monitoring and assessment process, to ensure they are providing a high level of service.”

A Freedom of Information request by the Labour Party showed SECAmb – which serves Kent, Sussex and Surrey – spent £7.3m on private ambulances in 2012/13, up from £1.9m in 2010/11 – a rise of £5.4m.

The release of the figures forms part of Labour’s campaign against what it believes is privatisation of the NHS through the new health reforms, which includes the creation of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) which replaced primary care trusts earlier this month.

A debate was held this week in the House of Lords concerning fears over privatisation, prompted by Labour.

This was supported by campaign group Keep Our NHS Public West Kent, formed in February, which is calling on the Government to stop what it is calling “privatisation by stealth”.

The group, which meets in Tonbridge, says it is determined to ensure the reforms set out in the Health and Social Care Act – passed by the Government last year – do not lead to privatisation.

Chairman Gareth Tomlinson said: “The NHS, which will be 65 years old in July, has served this country well and is the envy of many countries throughout the world.

“Despite an earlier election pledge that there would be no more top-down changes to the NHS, the 2012 Act sets up a completely new system.

“It puts doctors in charge of commissioning health services, which we support, but it could open the door to widespread privatisation of the service.”

Mr Tomlinson said he had been assured by the west Kent CCG that it would protect NHS services and consult with patients before any changes to services are made.

But he stressed the group was concerned about new regulations in the health service.

“We have been writing to MPs and peers, asking them to stop these rules coming into force,” he said.

“The government is clearly trying to privatise the NHS by stealth and I advise everyone who disagrees with this, to object strongly by writing to their MP.”

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