NEW DATA has shown that Hampshire's NHS ambulance service spent an eye-watering £15 million on private ambulances including some which met 999 calls last year.

South Central Ambulance, which covers Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire increased its spend from nearly £13 million the year before.

The number of 999 incidents attended to by private ambulances on behalf of the trust also rose, to 989,811 in 2018/19 from 917,521 the year before.

Private ambulances attended 17.69 per cent of incidents following a 999 call in 2018/19, up from 16.19 per cent the year before.

The information was unearthed via a Freedom of Information request which showed that nationally, England's ambulance trusts spent more than £92 million in the last year on private ambulances and taxis to transport patients.

In some parts of the South, almost one in five emergency calls result in a private ambulance being sent to the scene.

However trusts have hit back, claiming they rely on private ambulances due to a chronic shortage of NHS staff and ongoing problems with recruitment.

A spokesman for South Central said: "Private providers ensure that despite vacancies in our frontline workforce we can ensure that the expected level of demand for our 999 service can be met."

The trust said that the problem was "due to a national shortage of paramedics and exacerbated in our region by operating in a high-cost living area and the need to maintain salary levels that are agreed at a national level".

Earlier this year, the Care Quality Commission inspectorate published a damning report warning that patients were being put at risk by private ambulances.

It found that some firms were failing to obtain references or carry out criminal records checks while a lack of staff training was leading to serious patient harm.

The regulator found "ongoing issues with poor recruitment, training and safeguarding processes, with evidence of incidents of serious harm to people from staff that had not been properly recruited and vetted."

It added: "Many providers had no, or very limited, training for their staff."

In one example, inspectors heard how a driver believed he could drive the wrong way down a one-way street if he had a blue light on.

In another, "an extremely confused dialysis patient was found wandering in the street" after crews failed to make sure he got into his home safely.

A statement from the Independent Ambulance Association said: "The support provided by independent ambulance providers to NHS ambulance trusts is vital in ensuring that the emergency needs of patients are met, particularly where there are peaks in demand."

It said private providers must be registered with the CQC and are "subject to additional and rigorous checks by NHS trusts."