Private ambulance companies have been charging hundreds of pounds to transport ill people to hospitals thereby cashing in on strikes and lengthy 999 response times.
The Guardian can reveal that several of these services have grown recently to meet the rising demand, which is another indication of the mounting stresses on the NHS and the private sector’s encroachment on the health service.
In November, one company, Met Medical, stated that it will start offering paramedic services in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, primarily to relieve the pressure on overburdened NHS ambulances. When an NHS ambulance is not immediately available, customers can contact for urgent home visits.
“The UK ambulance service is under extreme pressure and it’s taking as long as 24 hours or more for some services to reach patients,” it stated on its website.
“If you have a relative who has fallen and is on the floor and needs help or is suffering from another condition where medical help is needed but the ambulance service have been unable to provide an immediate response and you live in or around St Albans, Hertfordshire then we may be able to help.”
The newly expanded services aim to cover all but the immediate threat to life – the “life and limb cover”.
As a result of a 24-hour strike, ambulance crews in the majority of England and Wales focused their responses on calls with an urgent risk of death on Wednesday, leaving thousands of patients, some of whom had critical diseases, facing the risk of having to travel independently to hospitals.
Patients were advised to travel independently and, when possible, to take cabs. Additional strikes have been scheduled for January 11 and 23.
Data from Google Trends shows a significant increase in recent years in searches for private ambulance services. Over the last year, searches for “private ambulance near me” in London have increased by 150%, and over the last five years, they have increased by 2,450%.
In private organisations, paramedics can make between £22 and £35 per hour. This is much more than what they may anticipate from the NHS, where, according to statistics from the trade union Unison, a paramedic on the lowest band makes £13.84 per hour, rising to £20.76 for the most experienced employees.
Individual businesses declined to give precise information on their prices. Some, however, provided approximations. Booking a private ambulance service can be very expensive. Bookings for shorter trips in central and eastern England’s highly populated regions were reported to cost between £300 and £400, although prices for longer trips or in rural areas can exceed £1,000.